Brazil’s top electoral court ruled Friday, August 5 (here), that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, now serving a 12-year sentence for accepting a bribe, cannot stand as a candidate in Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections. “Lula,” as he is universally known, was to be the candidate of one of Brazil’s major parties, and if pre-election polls are to be believed, he stood a very good chance of winning, setting up the unusual (to say the least) situation of a head of state governing from a jail cell. Absent a last-minute reversal by Brazil’s Supreme Court, Lula will now sit out the election in jail and the threat Brazil’s government will be run by a convict is over.
Lula’s supporters claim he is a political prisoner and is being unfairly denied the right to run for president. In doing so, they have glossed over the extraordinary protections the Brazilian legal system has afforded him, both in his effort to overturn his conviction and to run for office. Having failed in the courts of law, they are now trying to smear the prosecution in the court of public opinion. A report from a well-placed source in Brazil —
“Lula, former president of Brazil, was sentenced to 12 years and 1 month of imprisonment for money laundering and corruption. His sentence was confirmed by the appeal court and because of it he was arrested and prevented from running in the next general election for the presidency. In Brazil the “Clean Slate” law prevents those who have been convicted of a crime and had their sentences confirmed on appeal from running for election. In Lula’s case, the appeals court not only voted 3-0 to uphold his conviction but increased his sentence from nine to 12 years (here).
“In Brazil, the Judiciary and the Prosecution Office are separate bodies, and both are independent. Above the appeal court, Lula has the possibility to challenge his prison sentence to two other higher courts (Superior Tribunal of Justice and Supreme Court). Even though these two courts have no jurisdiction to reanalyze his conviction, they can examine if any federal law or the Constitutional were violated in his proceeding.
“It is important to say that 7 out of 11 Justices of the Supreme Court (the highest court) were appointed by Lula or his protégé and successor Dilma Roussef, both from their party. Besides that, they appointed many members of the Superior Court and the Circuit Federal Courts since Lula and Dilma governed Brazil for more than 13 years.
“As they exhausted their appeals before the Brazilian judiciary without success, Lula and his allies began pressing the international community to recognize him as a political prisoner, trying to discredit the legal and impartial work of the Prosecution Service. Recently, Lulu and a supporter both took to the pages of the New York Times (here and here) to argue the case.
“Until this point, there is no problem as it as their right to freely express their views. Then in June the prosecutors responsible for the anticorruption drive that nailed Lulu and many other politicians and businessmen were nominated to receive the International Association of Prosecutor’s “Special Achievement Award” to be presented at the 23rd conference in South Africa (in October). But a group of so-called “legal experts” has now petitioned the IAP´s Executive Committee to reconsider the nomination. These tactics are not new. It happened in 2017 right before Brazilian prosecutors were to receive the Allard Award in Canada, a very important award devoted to individual or institutions that dedicate to the fight against corruption and the protection of human rights.
“The problem, of course, is not a matter of receiving (or not) the award, but the damage that this kind of attack can have on the prosecution’s image and its effort to impartially combat corruption. Lula’s supporters know that any decision from the IAP canceling or suspending an award that was already made public would embarrass prosecutors and place them in an extremely bad position before the international community and the Brazilian public.”
I am pleased to say that my source reports that those prosecuting corrupt officials and those who corrupt them remain unfazed by these efforts and will continue to tackle corruption in a responsible manner while remaining faithful to the rule of law. (Readers looking for a nice summary of the back-and-forth on Lula’s convicion will find this story by AP reporters Peter Prengaman and Marcelo Silva De Sousa particularly valuable.)