SAO PAULO – Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insisted Wednesday night on his innocence after an appeals court upheld his corruption conviction and lengthened his prison sentence.
Lula, who was head of state from 2003 to the end of 2010 and currently leads in voter-preference surveys ahead of this year’s presidential election, also said the judges’ ruling in the southern city of Porto Alegre had made him want to be a candidate once again.
“They’re doing everything to prevent me from being a candidate ... But the provocation is so great that now I want to be a candidate for president,” Lula told thousands of supporters in Sao Paulo.
“If I committed a crime, show it to me, and if they show (the crime) to me, I’ll give up on being a candidate,” the politician said.
A three-judge panel at the fourth Federal Regional Court in Porto Alegre voted unanimously to increase the nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed down against Lula in July 2017 to 12 years and one month.
The judges’ decision could leave Lula ineligible to run for president in October, although ultimately it will be up to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to determine whether the most prominent member of the Workers’ Party (PT) can be its candidate.
The panel found there was sufficient proof that Lula accepted a beachfront triplex on Guaruja beach, near Sao Paulo, from engineering company OAS in exchange for helping that firm secure contracts with state oil company Petrobras.
The case stems from the sprawling Lava Jato (Car Wash) probe, whose initial focus was a bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on Petrobras.
The oil company has described itself as a victim of the scheme and in 2015 wrote down 6.2 billion reais (around $2 billion at the current exchange rate) in bribe-related losses from the 2004 to 2014 period.
Lula, who says the charges involving OAS and several other corruption cases he faces are politically motivated, can still appeal the case further – including to the Supreme Court – and will not be immediately imprisoned despite Wednesday’s verdict.
On Wednesday evening, the PT described the appeals court ruling as a “judicial farce” and reiterated that it has no plans to register a different candidate.
The center-left former president, who remains a hero to many lower-income people in Brazil despite his legal woes, was not in court to hear Wednesday’s verdict but instead followed the trial from Sao Paulo.
The July 2017 ruling was handed down by Judge Sergio Moro.
Moro has spearheaded the Car Wash probe, which has ensnared dozens of business leaders who oversaw the payment of bribes for government contracts and political figures who pocketed kickbacks and provided cover for the graft.
The case decided by the appeals court on Wednesday was based on plea-bargain testimony, a tool commonly used by prosecutors in the Car Wash investigations.