Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva was sentenced to nine years and six months over corruption charges in the Operation Car Wash investigations.
Lula was condemned for passive corruption crimes and money laundering. However, prison time has not been applied as the prosecution awaits appeal. Judge Sergio Moro alleged Lula received about US$1.15 million in bribes.
The ruling could bar him from running for president in the upcoming 2018 elections, despite having the highest approval ratings of all candidates. A Datafolha poll in April showed that Judge Moro would be tied with Lula in a possible second round of elections.
“President Lula is innocent," Lula's lawyers said in a statement.
"No credible evidence of guilt has been produced, and overwhelming proof of his innocence blatantly ignored. This politically motivated judgement attacks Brazil’s rule of law, democracy and Lula’s basic human rights. It is of immense concern to the Brazilian people and to the international community."
Harshly criticizing Moro's decision to convict Lula, Paulo Pimenta, congressman for the Worker's Party, stated that next year's presidential election “will not be tolerated, nor permitted” without Lula as a candidate.
Lula's conviction is yet another phase of the coup expansion in Brazil.
“Onward to the streets, to the squares and parliament in defense of democracy and former president Lula,” he said, according to Brasil 24/7.
Brazil's Popular Front has called for mass demonstrations in Salvador, São Paulo and Brasilia in response to the ruling.
Moro also acquitted the former president for "imputations of corruption and money laundering involving the storage of presidential stock for lack of sufficient proof of materiality." In this case, the suspicion against the former president was that he had allegedly received kickbacks from three contracts between the contractor OAS and Petrobras.
"Judge Moro made his bias and political motivation clear from the beginning to the end of the process," Lula's legal defense team added.
"His judgement has shamed Brazil by ignoring overwhelming evidence of innocence and succumbing to political bias whilst overseeing continual breaches of basic human rights and the legal process. The judgement proves what we have argued all along – that Judge Moro and the (Operation) Car Wash prosecution have been driven by politics rather than law."
According to the Attorney General's Office, the amount would have been passed on to Lula through an apartment and a payment for the storage of the company's assets between 2011 and 2016, as gifts received when he was president.
Valeska Texeira Zanin Martin, a lead lawyer in Lula's defense team, said evidence "definitely proves that Lula could not have been given a bribe." The lawyer argued that bank and real estate records prove Lula's innocence.
The three-story beach apartment couldn't have been given to Lula as a bribe, as prosecutors allege, because it is registered in the name of OAS with financial rights in a federal bank account. Zanin Martin said that if the company sold the apartment, the money trail would have to appear in the federal bank transactions, where records prove that Lula did not acquire the property.
The case generated a storm of public outrage when it began in September 2016.
Without providing any sound evidence, Moro presented a PowerPoint showing a plethora of alleged crimes circling and pointing to Lula's name spelled in large letters and positioned in the middle. The meeting was broadcast on national television.
After the presentation, prosecutors were questioned by journalists about the fragility of accusations made against Lula due to lack of evidence. Prosecutor Roberson Henrique Pozzobon affirmed, “We don't have to prove, but we have conviction.”
Lula's defense team presented last month a final appeal against the charges, saying they didn't have any evidence against him. Analyst Andre Viera told teleSUR in an interview that the decision is likely politically motivated and intended to make him ineligible for the 2018 presidential election.
The 71-year old leader of the Worker's Party can appeal to a federal court but could face time in prison if the judge rules he poses a flight risk or has a concern that the defendant could intimidate witnesses.
If his appeal is not accepted, he could seek an injunction from the Supreme Court. In the case that none go forward, Lula would be prohibited from running for any public office for eight years and could face prison or house arrest.