Brazilian court rejects latest attempt to free Lula from jail

Former president is serving eight years for corruption and money-laundering

A supporter of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva: the former president  denies all the charges against him and claims he is the victim of a judicial witch-hunt. Photograph: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

A supporter of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva: the former president denies all the charges against him and claims he is the victim of a judicial witch-hunt. Photograph: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

 

The latest effort to free former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from jail failed on Tuesday night when Brazil’s supreme court voted against his immediate release.

As expected, the court postponed considering a petition filed by Lula’s lawyers to remove the judge who convicted him of corruption from the case and grant him habaes corpus. But a five-member panel held a vote on whether to release the former union leader while he waited for his petition to be heard.

They voted three-to-two to keep Lula prisoner in the federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba, where he is serving eight years and 10 months for corruption and money-laundering. Lula denies all the charges against him and claims he is the victim of a judicial witch-hunt.

The panel’s majority ruled that recent leaks of conversations between the federal prosecutors who built the case against Lula and judge Sérgio Moro, who now serves as justice minister in the government of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, did not amount to an “illegal embarrassment” that warranted his release until his petition was heard.

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Lula’s defence had annexed the conversations to its original petition which it had filed last year. The former president’s imprisonment has become a flashpoint in the country’s bitterly polarised politics.

Leaks

The leaks, made by The Intercept website, have raised questions about Mr Moro’s impartiality, especially in relation to Lula’s trial. They appear to show the then judge overstepped his constitutional limits to direct and shape the progress of cases being built by prosecutors against politicians and businessmen in the sprawling anti-corruption probe known as Car Wash. Mr Moro has dismissed the accusations.

With Tuesday’s vote the earliest likely date for the former president’s petition to come before the court again is August, after Brazil’s judicial winter recess.

Despite Tuesday’s setback, Lula’s supporters remain optimistic that the leaks involving the former judge could swing the court in his favour.

“The one who is being judged is Moro. He has not been absolved [by Tuesday’s vote],” said Paulo Pimenta, the head of Lula’s Workers Party in the lower house of Congress.

If the supreme court does vote to remove Mr Moro the case will be sent back for trial, which would normally mean Lula’s immediate release.

But Tuesday’s delay gives more time for an appeals court to confirm his conviction earlier this year in a second corruption case, which would prevent any release. Lula also faces charges in a further seven cases.