Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for corruption and money laundering.
Federal prosecutors made the ruling on Wednesday, accusing Lula da Silva of receiving more than one million dollars in bribes from Brazilian construction giant OAS in the form of a luxury seaside apartment in return for his help in securing contracts with the state oil company Petrobras.
Lula has strongly rejected any wrongdoing and denounced the trial as politically motivated.
Judge Sergio Moro, who handed down the sentence, said the 71-year-old leftist leader could remain free pending an appeal.
Lula’s lawyers criticized the ruling in a statement, insisting that the ex-president was innocent and that they would appeal against the verdict.
“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 said. “We will prove Lula’s innocence in all unbiased courts, including the United Nations.”
The 71-year-old, who is the front-runner for next year’s presidential election, will be barred from seeking office if the conviction is upheld by a group of magistrates.
Senator Gleisi Hoffmann, the head of the left-leaning Workers’ Party (PT), also slammed the ruling, saying it had been meant to stop Lula from standing for office and that the party would protest against the decision.
Lula, who is charged in four other corruption cases as well, is the highest-profile defendant in a sprawling corruption probe known as “Operation Car Wash.”
The investigation centers around construction firms that have already admitted to paying billions of dollars in kickbacks to politicians and executives at state-run enterprises in return for lucrative contracts. More than 90 prominent politicians and businessmen have been convicted, while scores of sitting federal congressmen as well as one-third of sitting President Michel Temer’s cabinet are being probed.
Temer became president in August last year after Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s ally and successor, was impeached and dismissed over a series of allegations of financial wrongdoing and breaking budget laws. She has denied the charges.
According to federal prosecutors, and based on testimonies received from former Petrobras executives, millions in bribes were allegedly funneled into the campaign coffers of Lula’s Workers Party. Lula left office in 2010 with an 83-percent approval rating.
A recent opinion poll showed the Temer administration’s approval rating has sunk to five percent, making it Brazil’s most unpopular government since the end of military rule three decades ago. The incumbent president also faces corruption allegations and is resisting calls for him to step down.
By Jerry Onema