Lula denies peddling influence to aid building firm

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Sao Paulo on May 1, 2015 (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida) (AFP/File)

Sao Paulo (AFP) - Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva denied Monday that he is formally under investigation for influence peddling on behalf of construction giant Odebrecht.

Epoca magazine reported last week that Lula was "formally suspected" of using his name to land lucrative deals for Odebrecht in Latin America and Africa between 2011 and 2014.

"Epoca is deliberately trying to mislead its readers," a statement by Lula's eponymous institute said of the report, which comes as the country grapples with a huge corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras.

Epoca, part of the powerful Globo media group, said a judicial investigation was under way into a swath of fat contracts negotiated by state development bank BNDES and into what the magazine claimed was Lula's role in helping to land the deals.

Lula's institute said authorities had "not opened any kind of investigation into the activities of ex-president Lula."

It conceded, however, that a "preliminary procedure" was underway which could either lead to a formal investigation or "simply be archived."

According to Epoca, Odebrecht paid Lula to travel to countries including Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Ghana to help seal deals.

The company itself issued a statement through its president after the allegations surfaced saying there were no grounds for a judicial investigation.

Accusing Epoca of not checking its facts, the Lula Institute said the former leader did not travel in order to lobby but to give speeches and generally promote Brazil.

The institute added that Epoca contacted it hours prior to publication but did not publish its response.

Lula, who founded the ruling Workers Party (PT), was president from 2003 to 2010.

President Dilma Rousseff, a Lula protege, won the 2010 election to replace him and was re-elected last October despite the Petrobras scandal enveloping dozens of close political allies.