Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been found guilty of corruption and money laundering, thus sentenced to nine and a half years in jail.
Lula, who ruled Brazil from 2003-2010, was convicted and handed a 9.5-year prison term on Wednesday for accepting a luxury seaside apartment and $1.1 million, the latest twist in a giant corruption probe engulfing Latin America’s largest economy.
However, anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro said the 71-year-old Lula would remain free pending an appeal — something his lawyers immediately said they would lodge.
“The present conviction does not bring this judge any personal satisfaction. Quite the contrary, it is regrettable that a former president be criminally convicted,” federal Judge Sergio Moro wrote in his decision.
“It doesn’t matter how high you are, the law is still above you.”
“We are appealing and will prove his innocence,” the lawyers said in a statement sent to AFP.
The conviction nevertheless landed a heavy blow on the prospect of Lula making a political comeback in presidential elections due in October next year.
The verdict also sent a dramatic message to much of Brazil’s political class that they, too, risked falling afoul of the anti-graft drive.
Even the current president, Michel Temer, has been charged with taking bribes and several of his ministers have resigned after corruption claims were made.
The sea change has come about because of Operation “Car Wash,” a sweeping probe looking into a giant embezzlement and kickbacks scheme involving state-owned oil group Petrobras, construction firms and several political parties — Lula’s Workers’ Party chief among them.
Meanwhile, the former president has said the charges are completely unfounded.
Lula has described the investigation against him as a campaign to prevent his return to power.