BRASILIA • Brazil's Supreme Court yesterday rejected former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's plea to avoid prison while he appeals against a corruption conviction, in a vote that probably ends his political career and deepens divisions in the country.
The pivotal vote was cast by Justice Rosa Weber against Lula's request to avoid starting his 12-year sentence for accepting bribes. Ms Weber was seen as the only swing vote and her decision sealed his fate. He may be jailed within a week.
Lula is still Brazil's most popular politician, despite his conviction and six separate pending corruption trials. He is the front-runner in all opinion polls for the presidential election in October, but his conviction will probably bar him from running.
The decision against Lula is a serious blow to the political survival of Brazil's first working-class president, whose career from factory shop floor to high office is sinking in the corruption scandals that have rocked the political establishment and especially his Workers Party, which held power from 2003 until mid-2016.
Brazilian society remains deeply divided after Lula's successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office amid a corruption scandal and economic crisis.
Lula's conviction was upheld on a first appeal. Under Brazilian electoral law, a candidate is forbidden from running for elected office for eight years after being found guilty of a crime. Some exemptions have been made in the past, and the ultimate decision in Lula's case would be made by the top electoral court if and when he officially files to be a candidate.
Lula oversaw years of robust growth and falling inequality during a commodity boom and has said he wants to run again for the presidency in October. His supporters see the conviction as a ploy to stop him returning to power.
The 72-year-old was found guilty last August given 10 years in prison for accepting bribes worth 3.7 million reais (S$1.5 million) from engineering firm OAS, the amount of money prosecutors said OAS spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help winning contracts with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro.
In January, an appeals court unanimously upheld his conviction and increased the prison sentence to 12 years.