SAO PAULO – A Brazilian court added on Wednesday five years to a 12-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering handed down against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was recently released from prison after spending 580 days behind bars after being found guilty in a similar case.
The court decision constitutes another legal blow to the former union leader who governed Brazil from 2003-2010, although Lula will be able to remain at liberty in the second case thanks to a recent Brazilian Supreme Court ruling that let him go free on Nov. 8 while he is pursuing an appeal.
The three magistrates in the 4th Federal Regional Court ruled unanimously to raise the prison term imposed on Lula in the second case from 12 years and 11 months to 17 years and one month in the so-called “Atibaia case.”
The judges concluded that it was proven that Lula benefitted to the tune of one million reais (about $236,000) in renovations that construction firms Odebrecht and OAS made to a country house he used in the municipality of Atibaia in exchange for favoring the firms in getting contracts with state-run oil company Petrobras.
In the hearing, which lasted more than four hours, the examining magistrate, Joao Pedro Gebran Neto, said that the ownership of the Atibaia house was of little import, since “the fact is that Lula used the property,” which is formally registered in the name of businessman Fernando Bittar.
He added that there was abundant proof in the form of testimony, documents and more, that Lula used the property and thus derived a significant benefit from what amounted to bribes.
Lula’s defense team had asked the court to throw out the case, but the judges voted not to do so and – in fact – ruled that the prison term handed down against the 74-year-old ex-president would be extended.
After the verdict, Lula’s attorneys criticized the rapidity of the proceedings and the political “look” of the decision, denouncing what they claimed was legal “persecution” of the founder of the leftist Workers Party (PT).
“We saw political arguments presented instead of legal arguments,” Lula’s lawyer Cristiano Zanin said at a press conference after the ruling.
Another case is hanging over Lula’s head after another court found that he received a beachfront apartment in the town of Guaruja, in Sao Paulo state, in exchange for favors to OAS in securing Petrobras contracts.
It was in that case – known as the “triplex case” – that the PT leader spent a year and seven months behind bars but was released about three weeks ago after the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that a person could not be remanded to prison as long as they have not exhausted their legal appeals.
Meanwhile, in an interview with TV 247, Lula said he was going to find “all the prosecutors and judges” who made “lying accusations” against him and will beat all the charges against him to recover his political rights, although he added that he might not want to run for president in 2022 and would prefer to support his designated successor in the PT, Fernando Haddad, who lost the 2018 presidential race to ultrarightist Jair Bolsonaro.
The fact that Lula has been found guilty in two of the cases against him prevents him from being able to run in the 2022 elections if he is unable to win his appeals and prove he was wrongly convicted.