BRASILIA – The chief justice of Brazil’s Supreme Court revoked on Wednesday a ruling made hours earlier by one of his colleagues that could have led to the release from prison of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli issued the judgment in response to a request from Attorney General Raquel Dodge, who asserted that the earlier ruling could cause “a serious injury to order and security.”
The AG Office moved quickly to secure a reversal of Justice Marco Aurelio Mello’s ruling that individuals who have had one appeal of their convictions upheld can be eligible for release until they exhaust all appeals.
The ruling had the potential to benefit more than 169,000 prisoners, including Lula, though Mello mandated that release would be granted only on a case-by-case basis.
His decision came on the Supreme Court’s final day of work before its end-of-the-year recess, meaning that between now and February only the chief justice could overturn it.
Lula’s center-left opposition Workers Party (PT) likewise wasted no time in reacting to Mello’s decision, filing a petition for the immediate release of the former two-term head of state.
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, PT chairwoman Gleisi Hoffmann said the party was pleased with a ruling it considers important for Brazil’s legal process and constitutional rights.
Lula’s attorney, Cristiano Zanin, filed the petition in the southern city of Curitiba, where his client is serving a 12-year prison sentence.
Lula – who governed from 2003-2010 and remains Brazil’s most popular politician – was convicted last year of having accepted bribes from a construction company in the form of renovations to a seaside condo that the former president never owned or occupied.
The conviction was upheld on appeal and Lula has been behind bars since April, which led to his being barred from the presidential election amid polls showing that he would have won by a wide margin.
The case against Lula, who denies any wrongdoing, was based largely on plea-bargained testimony from people already convicted of corruption offenses.
Lula, who faces several other trials for alleged corruption, can still appeal his conviction to the Superior Court of Justice, Brazil’s highest federal appellate court for non-constitutional questions of law, and the Supreme Court, Brazil’s highest court for constitutional matters.