Former Brazilian President Surrenders to 12-Year Prison Sentence
On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to 12 years in prison on corruption charges. After months of telling his supporters that a conviction would in no way impede him from running for president, Lula turned himself into authorities on Saturday evening.
According to an article published by the BBC, Lula believes the charges against him are “politically motivated” and “designed to stop him from running for president.”
He currently leads the polls for the upcoming election in October.
Sérgio Moro, the judge who sentenced the former president wrote that he would be held in a special cell but added: “Although the ex-President deserves all the respect by virtue of the dignity of the office he held (without prejudice to the respect due to any person), that doesn't mean you're immune to investigation.”
Lula served as President of Brazil between 2003 and 2011. He was the country’s first left-wing president in nearly half a century.
During his two consecutive terms, Brazil enjoyed great economic growth and tens of millions of people were lifted out of poverty.
Lula left office with an approval rating of 90% but has become a polarized figure following corruption allegations in 2014. Dubbed ‘Operation Car Wash’, the investigation implicated many top politicians and state executives for accepting bribes from construction firms.
Lula was accused of accepting 3.7 million reais ($1.1 million) in bribes from engineering firm OAS. His defense claims these allegations have not been proven, and are unreliable as they come from the former chairman of OAS who was convicted of corruption himself.
Prior to his detention, Lula’s defense attorneys filed an emergency petition in order to avoid the warrant.
According to José Chrispiniano, a spokesman for the former president, Lula was originally considering not traveling to Curitiba, a city located in the South of Brazil where he was ordered to turn himself in. “He has no money for [the trip] since his assets have been frozen,” Chrispiniano explained.
Under Brazilian law, no one convicted of a crime may run for elected office for at least eight years, which would effectively eliminate any chance for Lula to run for president.
However, exceptions have been made in the past. The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) would have to decide if Lula could still run.
Hundreds of his supporters have taken to the streets near São Paulo to protest the Supreme Court decision. Many protesters see Lula as a victim who is being kept from returning to power, and whose party is being punished unfairly.
“We don’t want to surrender, we want Lula in power!” shouted one group of activists.
According to an article published by The New York Times, his supporters physically blocked him from surrendering for hours, before ultimately letting him go. The article also quoted Lula defending his innocence until the end, saying, “I do not forgive them for creating the impression that I am a thief.”
Even though Lula is now barred from running for president, his public image as a victim may make the Workers’ Party even stronger. Historian Lincoln Secco at the University of São Paulo stated: “[Lula] will connect his arrest to a condemnation of the ideas he supports, of his social policies.”
Without a successor, the Workers’ Party is now scrambling to find a replacement for the upcoming October election.