Ex-president of Brazil jailed nearly 10 years for graft

A supporter of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva protesting after the latter's conviction on corruption charges in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday. Political experts said the graft conviction opens the door for an outsider to take
A supporter of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva protesting after the latter's conviction on corruption charges in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday. Political experts said the graft conviction opens the door for an outsider to take power in Latin America's largest country.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ruling could dash Silva's hopes of running in next year's election

RIO DE JANEIRO • The former president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has been found guilty of corruption and money laundering and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison, a stunning setback for a politician who has wielded enormous influence across Latin America for decades.

The case against Silva, who raised Brazil's profile on the world stage as president from 2003 to 2010, stemmed from charges that he and his wife illegally received about US$1.1 million (S$1.5 million) in improvements and expenses from a construction company for a beachfront apartment.

In exchange, prosecutors said, the company was able to obtain lucrative contracts from Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant.

Silva's conviction on Wednesday tarnishes his legacy as one of Brazil's most commanding political figures, a charismatic leader who grew up poor, challenged the military dictatorship and nurtured global ambitions for his nation, helping to land the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Silva - commonly known as Lula - presided over a period of robust economic growth in Brazil and remains a widely popular figure, credited with leading a social transformation that lifted millions from poverty in a nation with one of the world's biggest disparities between rich and poor.

Calling the charges against him a "farce", Silva had announced his intention to run for president in next year's election despite multiple corruption allegations against him. He was widely considered a leading contender and the ruling could be a crippling blow to his aspirations.

Judge Sergio Moro, who issued the verdict, said Silva would be ineligible to run for office for twice as long as his sentence, or 19 years.

Silva - commonly known as Lula - presided over a period of robust economic growth in Brazil and remains a widely popular figure, credited with leading a social transformation that lifted millions from poverty in a nation with one of the world's biggest disparities between rich and poor.

Legal scholars interpreted the ruling to mean that Silva could still run for president while the case is being appealed. But if he fails on appeal, they said, it could either leave the leftist Workers' Party without an obvious candidate in next year's vote or prevent him from taking office.

Political experts have said the graft conviction opens the door for an outsider to take power in Latin America's largest country.

Silva, 71, is among a raft of Brazilian elites toppled by an epic corruption scandal that has battered the nation's economy, engulfed every major party and deepened public cynicism about politics.

It is a toxic mix that has enraged voters, who are searching for someone to lead them out of the political and economic wilderness.

"Brazil is now as polarised as the US. It really has been for years," said Mr Carlos Melo, a political scientist with Sao Paulo business school Insper. "But if Lula is absent it would unquestionably open the space for an outside, very emotional leader, a bit like US President (Donald) Trump," he added.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-president of Brazil jailed nearly 10 years for graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe