Fri, Apr 06, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Former president can be imprisoned, Brazilian court says

AP, RIO DE JANEIRO

Demonstrators celebrate a ruling that former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva can be imprisoned outside the National Congress in Brasilia yesterday.

Photo: AP

A sharply divided Brazilian Supreme Federal Tribunal yesterday voted to reject an attempt by former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to stay out of jail while he appeals a corruption conviction, delivering a hard blow to the front-running candidate in this year’s presidential election in Latin America’s largest nation.

After nearly 13 hours of often heated debate, the Supreme Federal Tribunal voted 6-5 to deny Lula’s request to stave off a 12-year prison sentence while he fights a conviction that he has always argued was nothing more than a ploy to keep him off of the October ballot.

Despite the conviction and several other corruption charges against him, Lula leads all preference polls for the election.

The decision means that Lula would likely soon be jailed, though probably not until at least next week.

Chief Justice Carmen Lucia, who was sharply criticized during the session by various colleagues, cast the deciding vote after the court was tied at 5-5.

“The constitution secures individual rights, which are fundamental to democracy, but it also assures the exercise of criminal law,” she said.

Justice Gilmar Mendes, traditionally a critic of Lula, voted in favor of the former president’s petition to stay out of jail, challenging his colleagues to buck pressure from society.

“If a court bows [to pressure], it might as well not exist,” Mendes said.

Justice Luis Roberto Barroso argued that the integrity of the justice system was at stake.

“A penal system that doesn’t work with minimal effectiveness leads to an instinct for taking justice into one’s own hands,” Barroso said in voting against Lula.

Justice Rosa Weber, who legal analysts said was key because there was much doubt about her position on the matter, voted against Lula.

In one of several brisk exchanges, after Weber’s vote, Justice Marco Aurelio Mello accused Lucia of plotting against Lula’s case.

Limiting the vote just to the habeas corpus petition and not the larger question of when a convicted person should be forced to begin serving a sentence helped sway Weber’s vote, Mello said.

“I want this to be registered in the court’s records,” Mello told Lucia, who responded by saying “yes” to the request.

When the decision was delivered, fireworks and yells could be heard and seen in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, two of the nation’s most important cities.

On the eve of the session that began on Wednesday afternoon, the nation’s army commander raised eyebrows with tweets subtly supporting Lula’s incarceration.

General Eduardo Villas Boas on Tuesday posted two tweets that many interpreted as a form of pressure on the 11 justices on the Supreme Federal Tribunal and a veiled threat of intervention.

“In Brazil’s current situation, it’s worth asking our institutions and the people who is really thinking about what is best for the country and future generations, and who is only worried about their personal interests?” Villas Boas wrote in one tweet.

In a second tweet, Boas wrote that he shared people’s anxiousness and “repudiated impunity.”

O Globo criticized the comments, saying in an editorial that a military chief should “not be opining over judicial and political questions.”

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