SAO PAULO – A Brazilian federal court on Monday rejected former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s appeal of its own earlier decision to sentence him to 12 years in prison for corruption.
The former head of state, who intends to be a candidate in this year’s presidential election, will remain free until at least April 4, when Brazil’s Supreme Court is set to hear a motion that seeks to keep Lula out of prison until he has exhausted all appeals.
Monday’s ruling was handed down by the 4th Region Federal Regional Tribunal (TRF4), based in the southern city of Porto Alegre, the same court that two months ago upheld Lula’s original conviction for bribe-taking and money laundering and increased his sentence from nine years to 12.
The TRF4 said Monday that Lula, who governed Brazil from 2003-2011, can be locked up before he has exhausted every legal recourse, but the Supreme Court had previously granted a stay pending its consideration of the habeas corpus petition.
Members of the TRF4 panel cited previous Supreme Court rulings that a sentence can be enforced if the conviction is not overturned in the initial round of appeals, even when a defendant has the right to have the case reviewed by higher courts.
The case against Lula, who denies any wrongdoing, is based largely on plea-bargained testimony from people already convicted as part of the sprawling investigation of a $2 billion corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
Despite Lula’s precarious legal situation, the center-left Workers Party he helped found has affirmed that he will be its standard-bearer in this year’s presidential election.
While the judges were ruling in Porto Alegre, Lula continued a speaking tour of southern Brazil to proclaim his innocence and denounce what he calls “judicial persecution.”