SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Supporters and opponents of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva clashed in street protests on Wednesday after the suspension of planned questioning in an investigation into a beach apartment that prosecutors say was given to the former president by a company involved in a major corruption scandal.
Critics who want to see Lula prosecuted for corruption tried to raise a giant inflatable doll depicting the former president dressed in a prison uniform. Hundreds of his fans tried to stop them.
The demonstrators in Sao Paulo threw rocks and water bottles at each other until police beat back them with sticks and used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
A massive federal investigation into a bribery scheme at state-run oil firm Petrobras, and a related state investigation into alleged money laundering at the apartment complex, have polarized Brazil and threatened the legacy of the leftist leader and founder of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Lula’s hand-picked successor, President Dilma Rousseff, has seen her popularity tumble because of the corruption scandal even though she is not under investigation.
Brazil’s National Council of Public Prosecutors called off the planned questioning of Lula and his wife Marisa late on Tuesday on the grounds that the state prosecutor, Cassio Conserino, was not qualified to conduct the interrogation. That decision had been sought by Workers’ Party Congressman Paulo Teixeira.
Conserino told weekly magazine Veja last month he had enough evidence to charge Lula and his wife with money laundering for hiding ownership of a three-floor apartment with private lift that builder OAS SA allegedly reserved for him at the complex in Guarujá, a coastal resort near Sao Paulo.
Conserino said at a brief news conference on Wednesday he would seek to reverse the Council’s ruling.
Lula, who many credit with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty during his 2003-2011 period in office, has said through his spokespeople that he and his wife visited the Solaris apartment complex but did not own property there. Local paper O Globo has reported that he did own an apartment there, held under a different name.
Federal prosecutors said last month they were investigating whether OAS used the apartments to pay bribes and to launder money for Workers’ Party members, but did not say if they were investigating Lula. OAS has declined to comment on the investigation.
Dozens of engineering firm executives and politicians have been arrested or are under investigation for overcharging Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, for building contracts and using part of the proceeds to bribe members of Rousseff’s ruling coalition.
Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Frances Kerry