Ex-Brazilian president Lula starts jail term as appeal continues

Arrest marks a dramatic fall for Brazil’s most popular leader in over half a century

Brazilian ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva being lifted by supporters after attending a Catholic Mass in memory of his late wife, Marisa Leticia, in Sao Paulo on  Saturday. Photograph:  Paulo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva being lifted by supporters after attending a Catholic Mass in memory of his late wife, Marisa Leticia, in Sao Paulo on Saturday. Photograph: Paulo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

 

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has started a 12-year jail sentence for corruption following his arrest on Saturday night after a tense and at time chaotic 50-hour stand-off with authorities.

He becomes the first person who served as his country’s president to be, jailed for a criminal offence. It marks a dramatic fall for Brazil’s most popular leader in over half a century and further roils the South American giant’s already turbulent political scene just six months before presidential elections in October.

Though ineligible to run following his conviction, Lula nevertheless leads all polls in the race which contains no obvious replacement as favourite. He has vowed to continue his campaign from jail.

His detention follows the final failure of his appeal against his conviction last year in a kickback case involving a beach-front apartment and the refusal of the country’s supreme court to grant him a writ of habeas corpus while he appeals to higher courts in Brasília.

From Thursday evening when federal judge Sérgio Moro issued the arrest warrant millions of Brazilians followed the drama of Lula’s drawn-out detention on television. But despite warnings from leaders of his Workers Party that any attempt to arrest him would inflame the country, protests for and against Lula were small and scattered if occasionally violent.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks next to Brazilian former president Dilma Rousseff on Saturday. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks next to Brazilian former president Dilma Rousseff on Saturday. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Drama

The weekend’s drama started when a defiant Lula ignored an invitation from Judge Moro to present himself to police by 5pm on Friday in the southern city of Curitiba where he was convicted. Instead he barricaded himself inside the headquarters of the trade union in Greater São Paulo where he first rose to national prominence in the 1970s. After negotiations he agreed to hand himself over to police after a mass scheduled for Saturday to mark the birthday of his deceased wife, Marisa Letícia.

The service turned into a political rally during which an impassioned Lula claimed he was being persecuted because his social policies benefited the country’ poor. He vowed to prove his innocence while accusing police, federal prosecutors and judges as well as Brazil’s main conservative media of lying about his case.

After the rally Lula’s first attempt to leave the union headquarters by car was frustrated by militants who sought to resist the detention order. The former president’s legal team reportedly advised that any further delay in surrendering to police would only prejudice future efforts to have his detention suspended. A subsequent attempt to leave on foot surrounded by emotional supporters was successful.

Corruption

Police first brought him for a medical examination before flying him to Curitiba to start his sentence in a special cell in the city’s federal police building. He is being held in a separate section of the building from other high-profile detainees of the Car Wash anti-corruption investigation that over four years has uncovered multibillion euro corruption schemes involving politicians and powerful private sector contractors across Brazil’s public sector.

Among the detainees being held is Lula’s former finance minister Antônio Palocci, who has incriminated his former boss whom he said had “succumbed to the worst of politics during his government’s best moment”.

The former president was found guilty in the first of several corruption cases against him to come to trial and faces the likelihood of further convictions as the investigations that have destabilised Brazilian politics for the last four years and spread across Latin America continue, despite growing efforts by Brazil’s establishment to neuter the efforts of police and prosecutors.