Thursday, July 9, 2020

LATIN AMERICA | 27-03-2018 15:33

Brazil court rejects Lula's latest appeal, inching him closer to jail

On Monday, appeals court judges unanimously upheld their decision to reject Lula's appeal of his conviction on corruption charges — a move that takes him one step closer to being barred from the presidential ballot and put behind bars.

As the slow wheels of Brazilian justice turn, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is inching toward jail.

On Monday, appeals court judges unanimously upheld their decision to reject Lula's appeal of his conviction on corruption charges — a move that takes him one step closer to being barred from the presidential ballot and put behind bars.

Lawyers for the two-term former president and founder of the Workers’ Party (PT) said they may appeal the result of the Porto Alegre court's ruling.

Despite his legal woes, Lula is leading polls for the October presidential election, and he is currently travelling through Brazil's south to rally his supporters. His caravan has been met by protesters along the way.

At rallies Monday, he repeated his contention that the charges against him are trumped up and meant to keep him from regaining the presidency.

"I don't respect the (court's) decision because if I respect a decision that is a lie, when my great-granddaughter ... grows up, she will feel shame that her grandfather was a coward who didn't have the courage to fight," he told a crowd in Iguazú Falls in Paraná state.

At an earlier rally in Francisco Beltrão, protesters threw eggs into the crowd, as they have done at several other sites along the tour.

That's a sign of how divisive a figure the once-beloved politician has become. For some, the man universally known as Lula is a symbol of the boom years, when millions of Brazilians rose out of poverty. For others, he represents widespread corruption in Brazil's halls of power.

The former president was convicted last year of trading favours with construction company OAS in return for the promise of a beachfront apartment. The conviction was upheld by a group of federal magistrates in January, and they increased his sentence to 12 years and one month in prison.

The 72-year-old, who faces six other corruption cases, says the legal onslaught is part of a politicised campaign to prevent him from running in Brazil's presidential election this October 7.

In Brazil, the defence can enter a motion that questions such decisions, pointing out inconsistencies or contradictions. But the magistrates rejected the substance of the defence's motion Monday, meaning the conviction stands. They did acknowledge one mistake in how they referred to a company, which has no concrete effect on the case's outcome.

One more motion?

The PT leader’s defence still has one more motion it can file with the same court, but law professor Carolina Cleve said it was very unlikely to change anything since Monday's ruling clearly showed the court's position.

Cristiano Zanin Martins, Lula’s lawyer, said the team would wait to read the full text of Monday's decision before deciding what they would do next. Martins called the conviction "illegal," and Lula and his supporters have vowed to appeal all the way to the Supreme Federal Tribunal.

"Why will we fight to the end? To prove his innocence, for his right to run" again for the presidency, former president Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s vice-president, said at a press conference in Rio. She criticised protesters who have thrown stones, firecrackers and eggs at da Silva's buses and sometimes his supporters during his ‘caravan tour.’

"A citizen throwing an egg at an event with hundreds of women, including some carrying infants, has no conscience," an angry Lula wrote on his website. "They are vandals, fascists."

Under Brazilian law, once all motions related to the first appeal are exhausted, the defendant can be ordered to start serving his sentence. The law also says he should be barred from running for office.

Still, there is yet another wrinkle in Lula’s case. He has filed a pre-emptive habeas corpus petition with the Supreme Federal Tribunal, so he cannot be jailed until justices rule on it. 

Lula was handed a temporary get-out-of-jail card by the court last week, while it considers his claim that he should be free until he has exhausted options at higher appeals courts.

The Supreme Court said it will rule on this on April 4, and that until then Lula can remain at liberty.

It seems likely Lula will be jailed in the coming weeks, but he would be allowed to continue to appeal his conviction to higher courts while serving his sentence.

Even experts say this case is complicated — and not just because the law is open to interpretation.

"We're in a very murky scenario," said Cleve, who is a professor of constitutional and electoral law at the Autonomous University Center of Brazil. "Politics is interfering in justice."


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