Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who rose from childhood poverty to become a two-term president, was convicted on corruption charges yesterday in the first of five graft trials he faces.
He was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. But the judge ruled he could remain free pending an appeal. Judge Sergio Moro found Lula guilty of accepting 3.7 million reais ($1.2 million) worth of bribes from engineering firm OAS SA, the amount prosecutors said the company spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help winning contracts with state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro.
Lula has rejected the claims, saying the trial was politically motivated and denied any wrongdoing. Federal prosecutors have accused Lula, who first took the presidency in 2003, of masterminding a long-running corruption scheme that was uncovered in a probe into kickbacks around Petrobras.
The ruling marked a stunning fall for Lula, Brazil’s first working-class president who left office six years ago with an 83-percent approval rating. The former union leader won global admiration for transformative social policies that helped reduce stinging inequality in Latin America’s biggest country.
Lula’s legal team has previously said they would appeal any guilty ruling. They have continuously blasted the trial as a partisan witch hunt, accusing Moro of being biased and out to get Lula for political reasons. Moro has denied the accusations. Lula’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Reuters said.
Despite the conviction and other charges against him, Lula remains a popular figure among many Brazilian voters, according to recent polls, and has said he wants to run again for the top office next year. But he would be barred from office if his guilty verdict is upheld by an appeals court, which is expected to take at least eight months to rule.
Lula’s two-terms were marked by a commodity boom that momentarily made Brazil one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
His ambitious foreign policies, aligning Brazil with other big developing nations, raised the country’s profile on the global stage.
With Lula’s swagger setting the tone, Brazil sought to shrug off northern economic and political hegemony and engage in global problems, like Middle East peace and the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.
But upon leaving office and managing to get his hand-selected successor Dilma Rousseff elected, Brazil’s economy soured, with the nation just now beginning to emerge from its worst recession on record.
Rousseff was impeached last year for breaking budgetary rules. She and her backers say her ouster was actually a ‘coup’ orchestrated by her vice president and now President Michel Temer, who himself faces corruption charges.
Former United States President Barack Obama once labeled Lula the most popular politician on earth. The verdict represented the highest-profile conviction yet in the sweeping corruption investigation that for over three years has rattled Brazil, revealing a sprawling system of graft at top levels of business and government and throwing the country’s political system into disarray.