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Lula the Billionaire | Anatomy of a Viral Hoax


Caveat lector: Crude Photoshopping alert

Source: Diário do Centro do Mundo.

Geraldo Almendra is a retired economist and mathematics professor. He says he now works in the financial markets. He is married and lives in Petrópolis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. He is fan of the armed forces and is excited about the upcoming September 7 demonstrations. “In jail or six feet underground, that is the place for a bandit,” he declares on his Facebook page.

Almendra is also one of the authors of a modest prank perpetrated in May 2012 that has since been officially denied.

Almendra had signed his name to an article accusing former president Lula da Silva of being a billionaire. He offered as proof the Forbes magazine annual ranking of the wealthiest persons in the world.

Almendra wrote : “Can a citizen of the lower middle class, elected president, become, during two terms in office, a billionaire, based solely on his salary and benefits?

As was widely reported on various occasions, a respectable magazine — Forbes –- brought this fact to light, attributing to Lula a personal fortune of more than US$ 2 billion.

This rumor began, as far as we can tell, in 2006, which leads us to conclude that the “financial intelligence” of the former president must have doubled that amount by now, given the lack of a formal, legal challenge by the ex-president to the magazine. 

This week, the publications by Wikileaks of suspicions – likewise previously reported  – of bribery involving the ex-president in disbursements by the Brazilian (mis)government with respect to past or present public auctions, we are led, necessarily, to the unanswered question; How to explain the meteoric rise in the personal and familial net worth of Lula?”

The entire disinformation campaign was a pyramid of piled-up rumors — that is to say, perfect for dissemination on the Internet.  It was republished intensively. At one point, someone created a photo montage with the cover of Forbes.

Among the comments of this or that or the other blog, someone warns Almendra: “Your comment on Lula is on the Internet. I am absolutely not defending Lula, but the fact is that we risk contributing to his prestige. I researched Forbes magazine and discovered that the photo is a montage, with text that is totally different,”one woman wrote.

In the end, Forbes ($) Brazil correspondent Ricardo Geromel, published an article ($) on the site titled “Is Lula, ex-president of Brazil, a billionaire?” Geromel says a reader asked him if Forbes had investigated Lula’s net worth. He explained the methodology by which the magazine arrives at its rankings. He tells stories of rich people who disagree with their ranking, such as Prince Alaweed, grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia, who has threatened to sue Forbes for not ranking him in the top ten.

Revista Forum has further details on the Forbes response.

“Having explained our methodology, I would like to emphasize that, although there are billionaire politicians, Lula is not one of them. Examples of billionaire politicians: Sebastian Piñera, president of Chile, with US $ 2,5 bilhões, and Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York,with US $ 27 bilhões.

After leaving the presidency, Lula received US$ 100,000 for a 50-minute speech to LG in 2011.  He also gave talks to Microsoft and Tetra aPk and was paid by Brazilian construction companies such as Odebrecht, to travel to six African nations and give talks to local executives. There is no evidence to suggest that  Lula is anywhere close to being a billionaire.

Lula’s son, Fábio Luis, known as Lulinha, has not (yet) become a billionaire either. Recently,Lula publicly denied rumors that Lulinha owns a US$ 50 million private jet and is one of the owners of  JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker.  Before his father’s election, Lulinha worked as an intern at a zoological gardens. In 2005, a year after Lula’s first election, he formed Gamecorp, a company that produces content for TV and the Internet. In 2006, Gamecorp received more than R$ 2.3  million from Telemar, now known as Oi. Gamecorp was not a success, and its losses total some US$ 4 million. There have been a series of rumors about the wealth of Lula’s family, but none are based in reality.


If rumors are to be believed, “Air Little Lula” on the runway. “Not bad for someone who used to clean up elephant shit!”

The Brazilian reprint of the Forbes story has been cut, but otherwise follows the original word for word.

The Forbes correspondent notes another interesting case of wealth and politics:

From the 46 Brazilian billionaires listed on FORBES world’s billionaires list this year, the most active in politics is Guilherme Leal, worth $1.8 billion. Leal made a fortune helping turn Natura, Brazil’s version of Avon, into a multibillion-dollar business. He resigned from Natura to run as the Green Party candidate for vice president in the 2010 Brazilian presidential election but he did not win. Today, Leal is also contributing on new ways of doing business as part of the B Team, with Richard Branson, Professor Mohammad Yunus, Arianna Huffington, Ratan Tata and other big names.

In Brazil, there is a general consensus that corruption is widespread and that there is big money involved in politics. In fact, one of the main reasons why so many Brazilians have taken to the streets recently was to protest against the prevalent corruption. Giuliano Mazzantini, commented the post where I describe fun facts about the 46 Brazilian billionaires, “I’m sure that the list will increase if FORBES investigates some of the Brazilians politicians’ bank accounts. But it will take a bit of work, because the accounts are mostly in tax havens.”

It is widely known that the current government has helped many Brazilian billionaires, notably Eike Batista, mainly through BNDES, Brazil’s National Development Bank.

Eike seems beyond help at this point, though the topic is not covered closely.

However, Leal is the only Brazilian billionaire who is involved with politics on a full time basis. FORBES is always trying to uncover new information and out new billionaires. Tips and leads to new billionaires, politicians or not, are always welcome.