Former president has plea to avoid prison rejected in move likely to end his political career
Brazils supreme court has rejected the former president Luiz Incio Lula da Silvas plea to avoid prison while he appeals a corruption conviction, in a move that likely ends his political career and deepens divisions in the country.
The pivotal vote was cast by Justice Rosa Weber against Lulas request to avoid jail and begin serving his 12-year sentence for accepting bribes. Weber was seen as the only swing vote and her decision sealed Lulas fate. He may be jailed within a week.
The ruling marks an extraordinary turn of events for Brazils most popular politician, who left office with an lift millions of people out of poverty. He leads opinion polls before a presidential election in October, despite his conviction and six separate pending corruption trials.
Recently, however, Lula became a more polarising figure as the economy struggled and multiple corruption allegations emerged. According to the polling institute Datafolha, 53% want him jailed.
Lula has said he is innocent and the charges are politically motivated to prevent him from running for president again.
The decision is a serious blow to the political survival of Brazils first working-class president, whose career from a factory shop floor to high office is sinking in the corruption scandals that have rocked the political establishment and especially his Workers Party, which held power from 2003 until 2016.
Brazilian society remains deeply divided after conviction was upheld on a first appeal in January. Under Brazilian electoral law, a candidate is forbidden from running for elected office for eight years after being found guilty of a crime. Some exemptions have been made in the past, and the ultimate decision in Lulas case would be made by the highest electoral court if and when Lula officially files to be a candidate.
Lower court judges, the countrys leading prosecutor and business groups urged the court to abide by its 2016 ruling that defendants can be jailed if a conviction is upheld on a first appeal.
Appeals in Brazils complex and badly backlogged legal system can stretch out for several years, guaranteeing impunity for those sufficiently wealthy to afford lawyers who can launch countless technical appeals.
Tensions increased on Tuesday when the commander of Brazils army weighed in with tweets calling on the court to stand guard against impunity. That rattled nerves across Brazil, which was sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting bribes worth 3.7m reais (790,000) from OAS, the amount of money prosecutors said the construction company spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help winning contracts with the state-run oil company Petrobras.
In January, an appeal court unanimously upheld his conviction and increased the prison sentence to 12 years.