Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court judges voted early Thursday to reject former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s plea to avoid prison.
After over 10 hours of session, there were six votes against the habeas corpus and five for it. The deciding vote was cast by court President Carmen Lucia Rocha. With the habeas corpus denied, Lula can be arrested any time, which will prevent him from participating in this year’s presidential elections. He is facing accusations of corruption and money laundering. He is alleged to have received an apartment for favoring certain companies in government contracts. Lula denies owning the apartment. His defense team said the prosecution did not manage to present evidence that Lula is the owner. There is no contract in his name, no documents attesting his ownership, and nothing more than the testimony of other defendants who gave evidence against him in exchange for leniency.
Lula was found guilty and sentenced to prison for nine and a half years in 2017. On Jan. 24, an appeals court rejected a motion to overturn his conviction for money laundering and accepting bribes. The court also stiffened his initial sentence, increasing it to more than 12 years. According to Brazilian law, after being found guilty by the appeals court, the former president can be arrested and made to start serving his sentence before all avenues of appeal are exhausted. However, Lula’s defense contested the ruling, saying arresting a defendant prior to all appeals hurts the principle of presumption of innocence. The lawyers requested that the former president be allowed to remain free until all appeals are heard.
The Lula case has provoked extreme reactions in Brazil. Thousands of people, both in favor of and against the habeas corpus, gathered in capital Brasilia for the court’s decision on Wednesday. In January, Lula’s Workers’ Party said the former president, who is also its founder, will be its candidate again in the October election. In previous polls on the preferred candidates for the election, Lula enjoyed a clear lead over his potential rivals. Without him in the fray, the election result will be unpredictable.