Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has lost his appeal against a 2017 corruption conviction in a major blow to his chances of regaining office.
The judgment was reached on Wednesday after two of the three appeal court judges in the case voted to uphold the decision of a lower court. While Lula can still take his appeal to a higher court, the court's decision could rule him out of October's presidential election.
Lula's lawyers, Cristiano Zanin Martins and Valeska Teixeira Zanin Martins, released a joint statement within hours of the ruling, saying: "President Lula has been subjected to a political prosecution and conviction. This verdict is not safe and is a miscarriage of justice and we will continue to fight this political conviction.
"One campaigning judge decided to investigate, prosecute and convict on no evidence. Today, three judges have chosen to ignore evidence of innocence and the rule of law. In doing so they have triggered a crisis of confidence in the rule of law.
"We have proven that it has been impossible for Lula to receive a fair trial. The whole process from the very beginning has been a legal farce masquerading as justice.
"Lula's basic human rights have been breached and all of his domestic legal remedies are closed and we are referring the actions and decision of this court to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
"Today's verdict has a bigger consequence than just one man – this affects all Brazilians... We will continue to fight this political conviction and we will win this fight, not just for Lula but for all Brazilians who believe that the rule of law and democracy must prevail."
In July 2017, Judge Sergio Moro alleged the former leftist president was guilty of corruption and money laundering, resulting in a ten-year jail sentence. The sentence was grounded on claims that he and his wife illicitly received millions in kickbacks from the OAS Group construction company as well as furniture and improvements to their beachfront apartment in Guaruja.
The 72-year-old leftist leader has maintained that the case is politically motivated to remove him from the presidential race.
"I am very calm, and I'm with the awareness that I have committed no crime," Lula said to supporters at the Metallurgical Trade Union in Sao Bernardo do Campo this morning. "I have a lot of feelings but what's happening to me is very little in comparison to what is happening with millions of Brazilians, who are out of work in this country."
Thousands of Lula's supporters, union activists, and Workers' Party members gathered outside the court yesterday to show support.
Lula's exclusion from the election would radically alter the country´s political landscape ahead of October's presidential election. Lula is currently the clear favourite in the poll with 36 percent of voter favouring his candidacy according to pollster Datafolha. That is double the percentage of his nearest rival, the far-right congressman and former army captain Jair Bolsonaro, who has been energized by anti-Lula sentiment.
"It’s a coup," Simon Zanardi of the Oil Workers Trade Union told CGTN earlier today. "Lula will be convicted because they know that if he runs for president, democracy will be restored in Brazil and workers will again be in power."
Brazil-based journalist Michael Fox told teleSUR: "Lula’s defense and people on the left say this is the continuation of the coup that ousted Dilma Rousseff in 2016. They say this is the next step in trying to ensure that Lula can’t run or come back into power.
"The elite and big capital want to continue to rule the country and rollback Lula’s Workers' Party policies, and not just Workers' Party policies, but others going back decades."
Having left office with a record approval rating of 83 percent, according to Datafolha, Lula now leads upcoming presidential polls conducted by Vox Populi, Datafolha, Data Poder 360, Instituto Parana, the National Confederation of Transportation/MDA and Ipsos.
"Lula cannot be stopped without a final decision before the election," Rafael Morgentau, an attorney specializing in election law, told CGTN.
"So, given the right to appeal and the low speed of this kind of process, his presence in the race is the very realistic scenario."
His two terms in office were marked by a slew of social programs, lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and removing the country from the UN World Hunger Map. He also made significant improvements in housing and education, which stand in contrast to those who governed the country in the past.