By Mahasweta Muthusubbarayan
A federal appeal court in Brazil confirmed the conviction of the nation’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the corruption case known as ‘Operation Carwash’ based on “proof beyond reasonable doubt”. His prison sentence is increased to twelve years and one month from nine and a half years by a vote of 3-0.
The dismissal of the appeal has cast a shadow over the upcoming presidential elections in October. The former President was all set to run for a third term and popular polls indicated him as the people’s favourite. The conviction prevents Mr. da Silva from contesting the elections, as Brazil has a “Ficha Limpa” or “Clean Record” law, which prevents potential candidates from contesting elections if their conviction in a case has been upheld even on appeal.
The carwash scam
The Brazilian government has been under the scanner for corruption for the last three years. The Carwash investigation was one of the most prominent among numerous cases revolving around the State-run oil firm Petrobras. In this particular case, Lula was convicted for accepting a beachfront penthouse in Guaruja worth roughly USD one million. He also received an apartment outside Sao Paulo and a plot of land valued at USD four million as a bribe from the construction company OAS. In exchange, he agreed to award it with multiple contracts with Petrobras. An OAS executive testified that he had negotiated the deal.
Lula has also been indicted in a few other corruption cases such as those involving the engineering firm Odebrecht. He has also been accused of peddling influence and obstructing justice. On the other hand, there are stories that there is no official or documented proof that the title to the apartment was transferred to Lula and that the prosecutors could not conclusively establish any bargain benefitting OAS. Allegations of abuse of procedure have also been made.
Upcoming presidential elections
Lula still has two appeals left and will not be sent to prison till he has exhausted all his appeals. However, the clean record law poses problems for his candidacy as further appeals are unlikely to be completed before the elections. Nevertheless, the potential candidate also has the option of applying to an electoral tribunal for permission to contest the elections during the pendency of the appeals. Lula’s Workers’ Party has pledged to unequivocally support his candidacy. The right stands to gain if he does not contest, including Lula’s archrival—the former army officer Jair Bolsonaro, and Sao Paulo’s businessman Mayor João Doria.
The political analysts say that while Lula’s participation would largely tip the scales of victory in his favour, his abstention does not necessarily guarantee any of his rivals an easy victory and merely leaves the field open. The reason why Lula is so popular is that he was a factory worker who worked his way into Brazil’s political circles through labour unions. His leadership was effective with the Brazilian economy booming and almost half a billion people being lifted out of poverty. Lula’s party has labelled the appellate court’s decision as a politically-motivated move, designed to keep their leader out of the presidential race even in the absence of any clear evidence against him.
Reactions to the court’s decision
A large section of the Brazilian masses is not pleased with the conviction of one of their most beloved presidents. Protestors blocked the streets in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo, terming his conviction as an attack on democracy and a political farce. Tens of thousands of supporters from across the country had gathered in Sao Paulo for the verdict. His opponents, however, celebrated on the streets with a giant blown-up figure of the ex-president dressed as a prison convict. As for Lula himself, he has charged that his conviction is the work of the upper-class Brazilians who could not tolerate the progress of the poor. He stated, “While this heart still beats, and while these eyes still see and while this brain still thinks, the struggle is not over. This country will prove that the poor people were never the problem. The poor people are the solution.”
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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