SAO PAULO – The Brazilian Supreme Court intervened on Wednesday to halt the transfer of jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from a lockup in the southern city of Curitiba to a prison in Sao Paulo state.
The justices voted 10-1 in favor of a request from Lula’s lawyers to put the transfer on hold while the court considers a habeas corpus motion seeking the release of the ex-head of state due to alleged misconduct by judges and prosecutors.
Lula, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2011, has been imprisoned since April 7, 2018, at the Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba, capital of Parana state.
In July 2017, Judge Sergio Moro found Lula guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for helping Brazilian construction company OAS obtain lucrative contracts from state oil company Petrobras and sentenced him to nearly 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the bribes took the form of renovations to a seaside condo that the former two-term president never owned or occupied.
Moro spearheaded the Lava Jato (Car Wash) probe, which initially focused on a massive bribes-for-inflated-contracts scandal centered on Petrobras.
Judge Carolina Lebbos said in an order issued Wednesday that there was “full justification for the transfer” to Sao Paulo, adding that there were “no reasons” to make Lula serve his sentence “in a place distant from his immediate family and social” circle.
Lula, a 73-year-old widower, has lost his older brother and a grandson to illness during his time behind bars.
The Federal Police Regional Superintendent’s Office in Parana requested the transfer, saying that Lula’s presence at the jail forces officers to “permanently” intervene to prevent clashes between “rival groups.”
The former labor leader, who denies any wrongdoing, has been held in a special 15 sq. meter (161 sq. foot) cell in Curitiba, where the court handling the Lava Jato case is based.
The Intercept, an online news outlet, published in June the contents of private communications among prosecutors and Moro revealing that the judge was deeply involved in shaping the prosecution strategy against Lula.
Prosecutors did not dispute the authenticity of the material, which shows, in the words of The Intercept, “that Moro secretly and unethically collaborated with the Car Wash prosecutors to help design the case against Lula despite serious internal doubts about the evidence supporting the accusations, only for him to then pretend to be its neutral adjudicator.”
The OAS conviction was upheld on appeal and Lula has been incarcerated for the last 16 months, which led to his being barred from the 2018 presidential election amid polls showing that he would have won by a wide margin.
Lula’s exclusion paved the way for Jair Bolsonaro – a professed admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime – to win the presidency. One of his first Cabinet appointments was naming Moro to head the Justice Ministry.
Moro insists that his handling of the case was above reproach and the Bolsonaro administration has reacted to the revelations by threatening to jail The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, a US lawyer and journalist who lives in Brazil with his Brazilian husband.