Brazil’s ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been convicted of corruption charges and sentenced to nine and a half years in jail.
The judge ruled Lula da Silva could remain free pending an appeal.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has rejected claims that he received an apartment as a bribe in a corruption scandal linked to state oil company Petrobras.
The former leader says the trial is politically motivated and has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
The case is the first of five charges against Lula da Silva.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva served eight years as president until 2011 and has expressed interest in running again in the 2018 elections for the left-wing Workers’ Party.
Image source Wikimedia
On July 12, a judge found the former president guilty of accepting bribes from engineering company OAS in the form of a beachfront apartment in return for his help in winning contracts with the state oil company.
In a statement, his lawyers insisted he was innocent and said they would appeal.
“For more than three years Lula has been subject to a politically motivated investigation. No credible evidence of guilt has been produced, and overwhelming proof of his innocence blatantly ignored,” they wrote.
Brazil’s Progressive Party (PP) has announced it is quitting the governing coalition ahead of President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment vote.
The president is now dealing with a further blow to her bid to stave off impeachment.
The PP said most of its 47 lawmakers would vote for Dilma Rousseff to be impeached.
Last month the PMDB, the largest party in Brazil’s governing coalition, also voted to leave.
Dilma Rousseff, who faces an impeachment vote in the lower house on April 17, says her opponents are plotting a “coup”.
They claim she manipulated accounts to hide Brazil’s growing deficit ahead of her election campaign two years ago. Dilma Rousseff denies this and her supporters say the issue is not valid grounds for impeachment anyway.
A PP spokeswoman told AFP news agency on April 12: “The party decided to withdraw from the… alliance, by majority decision.”
The PP is the fourth-largest party in the 513-seat lower house but it is not clear how its departure from the government might affect April 17 vote.
A two-thirds majority – 342 alawmakers – is needed to send the impeachment case to the Senate.
A recent poll, before the PP’s announcement, showed 300 in favor of impeachment and 125 opposed, leaving 88 lawmakers still undecided or not stating their position.
On April 122, Dilma Rousseff suggested that Vice-President Michel Temer was one of the ringleaders of the “coup” attempt against her.
She said a widely distributed audio message of Michel Temer appearing to accept replacing her as president, was evidence of the conspiracy. However, she did not identify him by name.
“They now are conspiring openly, in the light of day, to destabilize a legitimately elected president,” Dilma Rousseff said.
She referred to “the chief and… the vice-chief” of the plot, an apparent reference to Michel Temer and lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha.
Brazil is “living in strange times”, she said, “times of a coup, of farce and betrayal”.
Michel Temer has said that the message was released by accident.
Speaking in an interview with the conservative Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper on April 12, Michel Temer argued that he had spent weeks away from the capital Brasilia specifically so that no-one could accuse him of plotting behind the scenes.
On Monday evening, amid rowdy scenes, a 65-member congressional committee voted 38 to 27 to recommend going ahead with impeachment proceedings.
Lawmakers are due to start debating on April 15, officials said, with voting beginning on April 17 at about 14:00. The result should be known later in the evening.
Security is expected to be stepped up around the Congress building in Brasilia as the vote takes place.
While President Dilma Rousseff’s opponents say the impeachment is supported by most Brazilians, the president’s supporters have labeled it a flagrant power grab by her political enemies.
If Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer are both suspended from office, the next in line to assume the presidency is Eduardo Cunha.
However, Eduardo Cunha is facing money-laundering and other charges.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has refused to resign over her alleged mishandling of the economy after moves to impeach her.
Dilma Rousseff accused her opponents of causing a political crisis which she said had damaged the economy.
She also defended her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, over money-laundering allegations.
Dilma Rousseff said a prosecutors’ request for his detention had no legal basis.
The ongoing crisis has deepened the worst recession in decades in Brazil – Latin America’s biggest economy.
Dilma Rousseff said she had been democratically elected and had no intention of going.
The inquiry has implicated several business leaders and politicians close to the government including Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Regional prosecutors in Sao Paulo want Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, 70, placed in “preventive custody” after charging him with failing to declare ownership of a luxury sea-front penthouse in the seaside resort of Guaruja.
They say this is necessary because he may try to obstruct the investigation. The request still has to be accepted or rejected by a judge.
The former president denies any wrongdoing and says the claims are politically motivated. He says he never owned the apartment.
His lawyer, Cristiano Zanin Martins, said Brazil’s ex-leader had invested in the project and had visited the unfinished apartment but later asked for his money back rather than receiving the property.
President Dilma Rousseff refused to comment on a possible cabinet job for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva but said she would be proud to have him in her government.
Last week, the former president was briefly detained and questioned in a separate, federal investigation into whether extensive refurbishment on the penthouse had constituted favors in exchange for political benefit.
The renovations were carried out by one of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, OAS.
Officially the apartment belongs to OAS, which is itself accused of paying bribes to politicians and senior officials at state oil company Petrobras to secure lucrative contracts.
In addition, federal prosecutors are looking into allegations that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sold his influence in President Dilma Rousseff’s administration in exchange for donations to his Instituto Lula non-profit foundation.
Last week’s questioning of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led to criticism not only from his supporters but also from judges and politicians, who said it was unnecessary.
His supporters say the attacks on him are aimed at tarnishing his reputation, amid rumors that he may run for office again in 2018.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was Brazil’s left-leaning president from 2003 to 2011 and was succeeded in office by his political protégé, Dilma Rousseff, who has record-low approval rates amid a serious economic crisis.
A former factory worker and union leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva remains a very popular figure in Brazil despite the accusations against senior members of the Workers’ Party.
Brazil’s ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been arrested as part of a huge fraud inquiry into the state oil company Petrobras.
His house was raided by federal police agents and he was brought in for questioning.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who left office in 2011, has denied allegations of corruption.
The long-running inquiry, known as Operation Car Wash, is probing accusations of corruption and money laundering at Petrobras.
Dozens of Brazilian executives and politicians have been arrested or are under investigation on suspicion of overcharging contracts with Petrobras and using part of the money to pay for bribes and electoral campaigns.
Police said they had evidence that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, 70, received illicit benefits from the kickback scheme.
His institute said in a statement the “violence” against the former president was “arbitrary, illegal and unjustifiable”, as he had been co-operating with the investigations.
Officials said some 33 search warrants and 11 detention warrants were being carried out by 200 federal police agents in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Bahia.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s house in Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo, was raided early on Friday. The headquarters of his institute in Sao Paulo was also targeted, as were his wife, Marisa, and sons, reports said.
One of the lines of inquiry is that construction companies targeted by the operation could have favored Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the development of a ranch and a luxury beachfront apartment.
Raids in the cities where these properties are located have also been carried out.
“Ex-president Lula, besides being party leader, was the one ultimately responsible for the decision on who would be the directors at Petrobras and was one of the main beneficiaries of these crimes,” a police statement quoted by Reuters news agency said.
“There is evidence that the crimes enriched him and financed electoral campaigns and the treasury of his political group.”
Supporters and opponents of the former president clashed in front of his house following the raids.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, from the Workers’ Party, served two terms as president and was succeeded in office by his political protégé, Dilma Rousseff.
He led Brazil during a time of rapid economic growth and is credited for lifting millions of people out of poverty.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva still is a well-liked figure and has been considered as a potential candidate in presidential elections in 2018. However, his popularity has been hit by recent allegations that he either had knowledge or involvement in the wrongdoings.
On March 3, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s institute said the former president had never committed any illegal acts before, during or after his presidential term.
The corruption scandal threatens the government of Dilma Rousseff, who has faced repeated impeachment calls, analysts say.
Dilma Rousseff has denied having any knowledge of wrongdoings.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has accused her political opponents of seeking to oust her government by “coup-mongering”.
Speaking at a meeting of union leaders in Sao Paulo on October 13, Dilma Rousseff also said the opposition was spreading hatred and intolerance across Brazil.
Dilma Rousseff’s comments come after an audit court last week ruled that she broke the law in managing last year’s budget.
The opposition says this could pave the way for impeachment proceedings.
President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected less than a year ago but currently has record low popularity ratings.
Addressing the gathering, Dilma Rousseff accused the opposition of practicing “deliberate coup-mongering” against a “project that has successfully lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty”.
“The artificiality of their arguments is absolute, their poisoning of people in social networks, their relentless game of <<the worse she does, the better for us>>,” she was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Dilma Rousseff’s remarks follow the ruling of the Federal Accounts Court on accusations that the government borrowed money illegally from state banks to make up for budget shortfalls.
The minister who handled the case in the court, Augusto Nardes, said the government disregarded fiscal and constitutional principles in the handling of the 2014 accounts.
The irregularities amount to more than 100 billion reais ($26 billion), according to the court.
The opposition said after the ruling it would seek impeachment proceedings in the Congress.
Also last week, Brazil’s top electoral authority said it would re-open an investigation into alleged misuse of funds during Dilma Rousseff’s re-election campaign.
The Brazilian economy has gone into recession and is expected to shrink by 3% in 2015.
The government’s popularity has fallen amid corruption scandals involving senior politicians from Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and other coalition members.