Lula da Silva. PHOTO: Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP
The chief justice of Brazil’s Supreme Court urged calm and warned against violence Monday ahead of a ruling that could send former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to prison — or give him a get-out-of-jail card.
“This is a time when we have to ask for calm,” said Carmen Lucia, president of the court. “Calm so that ideological differences don’t become the source of social disorder, calm to break with the picture of violence.”
Lula, 72, easily leads in the polls ahead of October 7 presidential elections.
But the leftist former two-term president is fighting to avoid having to start serving a 12-year sentence for accepting a luxury apartment as a kickback from a big construction company — and his fate is now in the Supreme Court’s hands.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will rule on his petition that he be allowed to remain free while he exhausts all available appeals.
That would likely keep him out of jail for the near future and maybe even let him get on the presidential ballot.
But it is hugely controversial as a significant number of Brazilians see Lula as the embodiment of a wave of corruption sweeping over Latin America’s biggest country.
Under current law, Brazilians must start serving their sentence as soon as a first appeal has failed, which is Lula’s case. However, the Supreme Court is almost evenly split on the issue, meaning there is still a chance of the rule being changed for Lula.
Pressure on the Supreme Court was intense in the run-up to Wednesday’s session, with more than 5,000 judges and prosecutors handing in a petition demanding that Lula not be allowed to walk.
In her rare public statement, Lucia warned that in a democracy “different opinions have to be respected.”
“Violence is not justice,” she said. “Violence is vengeance and incivility.”
Troubles grow for Temer
Lula is not the only one causing waves this week.
Current center-right President Michel Temer, who already faces two corruption charges, is embroiled in new controversy following the arrests of several close associates on graft charges.
They were charged last Thursday in connection with a probe into whether port logistics company Rodrimar was given contracts at Sao Paulo’s huge Santos port after bribing Temer.
For now, Temer is at little risk of facing prosecution.
When two corruption charges were filed against him last year, Congress — in which many members are themselves embroiled in corruption investigations — voted to bar the cases from going to trial.
However, the latest wave of charges shows that prosecutors from Brazil’s giant “Car Wash” anti-graft probe are gradually closing in on Temer.
‘D-Day’ for prosecutors
“Car Wash” has been wreaking havoc in Brazil’s elite circles for four years by revealing a vast web of bribes and kickbacks between politicians and several of the country’s biggest companies.
Scores of politicians have been convicted or charged and prosecutors see their crusade approaching a climax with the conviction of Lula and deepening of probes around Temer.
But they are deeply worried by Lula’s bid at the Supreme Court to dodge the rule on sentences starting after a first appeal.
In many of the “Car Wash” prosecutions, it was precisely that threat of prison — without the ability to string out multiple appeals in different courts — that prompted the accused to cut deals with prosecutors and testify in plea bargains.
This then helped prosecutors squeeze more suspects and further unravel long secret schemes.
“Wednesday is D-Day for ‘Car Wash’s’ fight against corruption,” lead prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol tweeted over the weekend.
“A defeat would signify that most of the corrupt from different parties, throughout the country, will never be held responsible.”
Right-leaning groups planned street protests in numerous cities on Tuesday, while Lula supporters are organizing their own rallies.