Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – popularly known as Lula – has lost his appeal over corruption charges in a decision that his supporters say is politically motivated. Lula’s nine-year prison sentence for allegedly accepting a luxury apartment from the construction company OAS, one of the firms at the center of the Petrobras scandal, was upheld by an appeals court on Wednesday and increased to 12 years. Speaking to thousands of people at the Plaza de la Republica square in São Paulo on Wednesday, the leader of the Workers’ Party (PT) insisted the verdict would not deter him from standing as a candidate in this year’s presidential elections.
Lula is leading in the polls with 36% support among voters
“Everything they are doing is to make sure I am not a candidate,” Lula told the crowd at the nighttime rally. “I want to be a candidate. And what I want to battle for is to raise awareness among Brazilians. If they can present some crime that I have committed, I will withdraw my candidature. I want to challenge the three judges who have sentenced me to show me the crime I have committed.”
Lula has denied ownership of the three-floor condo in Guarujá, dismissing the charges as a political plot to stymie his comeback. “The judiciary and the press have made a pact to put an end to our government in the country. They can’t stand the fact that the poorest people have been lifted up.”
The 72-year-old is leading in the polls with 36% support among voters, according to pollster Datafolha, but Brazil’s “Ficha Limpa,” or “Clean Record” law, bans political candidates whose convictions have been upheld by an appellate court.
Lula, however, assured his supporters that the verdict would not stop him from campaigning against the country’s ruling elite. “They are putting an end to student funds, contract work is not going to exist anymore … I want you to know that Lula is at the accused table but it is the Brazilian people who were convicted.”
Former President Dilma Rousseff has called for a mass show of support for Lula: “We are going to guarantee Lula’s right to compete for the presidency of the Republic in the streets and in all the corners and cities of Brazil. When they hit us, like today, we are going to fight even harder.”
The PT will meet on Thursday to consider officially approving Lula as their presidential candidate. The deadline for registration is August 15. An electoral court would then need to approve the candidacy.
“I am not afraid of going to prison,” Lula told the throngs of supporters. “I want to warn the Brazilian elite to wait, just wait because we are coming back.”
As Lula spoke to the crowd, a small counter-protest of 200 people began celebrating the court’s decision. The protesters paraded a blow-up figure of Lula dressed as a convict and were wearing t-shirts supporting far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, Lula’s closest rival.
English version by Melissa Kitson.