Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula", was yesterday convicted on corruption charges involving a construction company and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison.
The highest-profile scalp yet in Brazil’s vast "Lava Jato" bribery probe, Lula was found guilty of accepting just over $1.1m (3.7 million reais) worth of bribes from engineering firm OAS in return helping OAS win contracts from state oil company Petrobras.
In the case overseen by Lava Jato mastermind Judge Sergio Moro, prosecutors said OAS spent that amount refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula, who was president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011.
It is a spectacular fall from grace for Lula, 71, who was founder of the left-wing Workers’ Party and was widely revered for improving life for Brazil’s many poor.
He had been planning a political comeback and was considered a strong contender in next year’s presidential election, commented Reuters.
For now Lula remains free on appeal, and he faces four more corruption trials.
His legal team told Reuters in an emailed statement that he was innocent and that they would appeal.
He would be barred from political office if his guilty verdict is upheld by an appeals court, which is expected to take at least eight months to rule.
"For over three years, Lula has been subject to a politically motivated investigation," his legal team wrote. "No credible evidence of guilt has been produced, and overwhelming proof of his innocence blatantly ignored."
Brazil’s current president, Michel Temer, was charged with corruption in June. However, under Brazilian law, a criminal charge against a sitting president can go to the Supreme Court only if two-thirds of the lower house of Congress vote to allow it. Such a vote is expected this month or next.
Image: President Lula and his wife during Independence Day celebrations in 2007 (Ricardo Stuckert/CC 3.0)