SAO PAULO – Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for corruption and money laundering, said Thursday that the punishment handed down by the court was “political” and ripped the Brazilian criminal justice system for convicting defendants on the basis of flimsy evidence.
Brazil’s most popular politician also unequivocally threw his rat into the ring for next year’s presidential contest.
“I want to tell my party something I haven’t asked for until now, but from now on I will ask the PT (Workers Party) to give me the right to become a contender for the candidacy,” the 71-year-old Lula said during a press conference at PT national headquarters in Sao Paulo.
The man who governed Brazil from 2003-2011 was sentenced Wednesday to nine years and six months in prison in connection with the massive corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Both the guilty verdict and the sentence – which are subject to appeal – were handed down by Judge Sergio Moro, who is overseeing the sprawling Petrobras investigation.
“If anyone thinks that they have taken me out of the game with this verdict, let them know that I’m in the game,” Lula said.
Though he still faces several other corruption trials, Lula will remain eligible to run for president next year until and unless a conviction is upheld on appeal. A final decision on Wednesday’s conviction is unlikely before mid-2018 at the earliest.
Surrounded by PT officials and rank-and-file members, Lula blasted the judiciary and Brazil’s media giants for what he characterized as their attempts to exclude him from politics.
“Those who are awaiting the end of Lula can go on waiting,” the former president said. “I’m ready to fight the same way I did when I was 30 years old.”
Moro found Lula guilty of having accepted services valued at 3.7 million reais ($1.1 million) from a construction company that benefited from contracts with Petrobras.
The charges rested on the claim that Lula was the real owner of a a beachfront triplex near Sao Paulo registered in the name of OAS, one of the engineering companies implicated in bribing Petrobras executives to secure inflated contracts and diverting some of the extra money to politicians who provided cover for the graft.
Lula allegedly accepted renovations to the luxury apartment as a reward for giving OAS the inside track on government contracts.
The former head of state denies that he ever owned the apartment, much less benefited from improvements to the property.
“I don’t know how someone manages to write nearly 300 pages without saying anything at all against the person he wants to accuse,” Lula said Thursday, commenting on the text of Moro’s decision.
Lula, the first Brazilian former president to be convicted in a court of law, said that “no truth was ever taken into account” during the trial.
Brazilian lawmakers are poised to vote on whether to allow a criminal case to proceed against incumbent President Michel Temer, who is accused of accepting bribes from meatpacking giant JBS and of encouraging that company to pay hush money to a former top lawmaker convicted earlier this year in connection with the Petrobras scheme.
Those allegations stem from plea-bargain testimony by JBS executives, including an audio recording in which Temer appears to tell company chairman Joesley Batista that payments to the former speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, needed to continue to prevent him from turning state’s evidence.
Temer has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
JBS executives also have told prosecutors as part of plea-bargain testimony that the company provided tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Temer’s two immediate predecessors, the PT’s Dilma Rousseff – ousted by Congress last year on dubious grounds – and Lula.