Brazil's Lula arrives in prison after dramatic standoff

09 April, 2018, 01:06 | Author: Diane Mills
  • Former Brazilian President Lula waves to supporters outside of ABC Steelworkers Union headquarters in Sao Bernardo do Campo

Former president maintains innocence but surrenders to police to begin serving 12-year jail sentence for corruption.

Despite his many legal problems, Lula remains the easy frontrunner ahead of October presidential elections and if he is unable to compete, as expected, the race will be thrown wide open.

Judge Sergio Moro sentenced Lula to nine-and-a-half years in prison, and an appeals court raised the jail term to 12 years and one month.

"In Brazil, everything is possible, so he could spend a week in prison and then a judge from the Supreme Federal Court could send him to house arrest, for example", said Oliver Stuenkel, a specialist in worldwide relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo.

The dramatic scene was the latest development in a whirlwind series of days, which began when the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country's top court, ruled against his petition on Thursday to remain free while he continued to appeal his conviction.

As he tried to leave the compound Saturday through a gate, dozens of supporters surrounded the vehicle shouting "don't surrender" and "no turning back", which forced his vehicle to back away from the gate.

Da Silva, who Brazilians simply call "Lula", did no such thing.

"I'm the only person being prosecuted over an apartment that isn't mine", insisted Lula, standing on a sound truck alongside his impeached handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff and leaders of other left-wing parties.

The judge had ordered Lula to report to a police station in Curitiba by 5pm (20:00 GMT) on Friday.

Mauricio Santoro, a political science professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said that by not complying with the order on Friday da Silva "wanted to demonstrate strength and popularity, showing that he is a political leader capable of gathering a crowd in his support".

Lula da Silva was accused of benefiting from the renovation of a triplex in a beach town near Sao Paulo by the construction company OAS. "The prosecutors lied", said da Silva, as a few thousand supporters cheered.

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Lula's everyman style and unvarnished speeches electrified masses and eventually won him two terms as president, from 2003 to 2011, when he oversaw robust economic growth and falling inequality amid a commodities boom.

" I hope this is the start of a new era", said Nicolas Nunes, 30, an investment banker in Sao Paulo.

However it happens, the jailing of da Silva will mark a colossal fall from grace for a man who rose to power against steep odds in one of the world's most unequal countries. "Lula will not be a prisoner in 2018, he'll be president and help the people once more", said Swiecik, 31.

Investigators uncovered a major scheme in which construction companies essentially formed a cartel that doled out inflated contracts from state oil company Petrobras, paying billions in kickbacks to politicians and businessmen.

He left office with a sky-high approval rate of 83 percent and was once called "the most popular politician on Earth" by former US President Barack Obama.

Being locked up nearly certainly means Lula will be out of October's presidential election, throwing the race wide open.

"I am the only human being to be put on trial for an apartment that does not belong to me", he said.

After the speech, Lula was lifted onto the shoulders of supporters who chanted, "I am Lula".

To his Workers' Party faithful, Lula is a victim of an out-of-control judiciary preventing him from returning to power. "That way, they will know I am not afraid".

Speaking to supporters from a memorial for his late wife, Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva, he said his arrest is politically motivated and that "history will prove" that he is not guilty.

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