Brazil’s ex-president could be freed after top court ruling

Supporters of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva celebrate a Supreme Court ruling that could benefit him

Supporters of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva celebrate a Supreme Court ruling that could benefit him

Brazil's Supreme Court delivered a ruling that could release nearly 5,000 inmates still appealing their convictions, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other powerful figures jailed in a sprawling corruption investigation.

On Thursday, Brazil's Supreme Court voted 6-5 to overturn a ruling requiring convicted criminals to go to jail after losing their first appeal, AFP reported.

If and when he is released, Lula would be free to engage in politics but would not be eligible under Brazil's Clean Record law to seek elected office for eight years after his first conviction in June 2017.

Lula, who ruled Brazil in 2003-2010, was set to confront current President Jair Bolsonaro in an election a year ago but was blocked by then-judge Sergio Moro who is now justice minister in the Bolsonaro government. Lula had been favorite to win the 2018 election but his imprisonment barred him from running.

The decision appears to cover Da Silva and others convicted in cases that arose from the sprawling "Car Wash" corruption probe.

Lula has consistently denied all the accusations against him and claims they are politically motivated.

It was accepted by the court with six votes in favor and five against.

It overturns a three-year-old rule which mandated immediate prison time for convicted criminals after they lost their first appeal. The measure was seen as helping prosecutors secure convictions and unravel the major corruption probe by encouraging suspects to negotiate plea deals.

Lula's lawyers have already called for his release in response to the judgement.

Justice Gilmar Mendes, who voted for the release of inmates who have yet to conclude their appeals, said Da Silva's case "contaminated" debate on the case.

In addition to Da Silva, Brazil's justice council estimates at least 4,895 prisoners stand to benefit from the decision.

Sergio Moro, the Car Wash trials judge who sentenced Lula and is now justice minister in Bolsonaro's government, warned before the court's decision that overturning the rule would be a big setback for the fight against corruption.

The Brazilian Bar Association argued that the mandatory prison rule violated the constitution by not respecting the presumption of innocence throughout the appeals process.

What was Lula accused of? Then Da Silva was jailed in April 2018 after a group of judges upheld his conviction for corruption and money laundering.

Earlier this year, he was sentenced to another 12 years after being found guilty of accepting bribes in the form of renovation work at a country house from construction companies.

He is former trade union activist and remains an iconic and popular figure for the left.

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