Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil, may be leading the polls for next year’s presidential election, but that advantage has evaporated as he has been convicted for bribery and money laundering and sentenced to nine years and six months in jail.
Lula, who was president between 2003 and 2010, was found guilty of embezzlement and receiving bribes from the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, in a massive corruption scandal known as “Car Wash”.
He remains free, pending an appeal of the decision but he has four other corruption charges hanging around his neck.
The sentence could scuttle Lula’s comeback bid in the October 28 election to decide the next president of a country that has been plagued by prolonged political and economic uncertainty, and has since slipped into recession.
Lula, widely acclaimed as having transformed Brazil during his eight-year presidency, is accused of benefiting from a scam in which billions of dollars were siphoned from fat contracts at the state-run oil company Petrobras.
He was alleged to have received a luxury seaside apartment as a bribe from one of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, OAS.
But he has repeatedly denied taking any bribes from anyone during or after his presidency, describing the investigation against him as a campaign to prevent his return to power.
“Never in the story of Brazil was someone was so persecuted and massacred as I am being in the last years,” Lula told a crowd of supporters after one of his court sessions in May.
His lawyer, Cristiano Martins, also criticised the proceedings immediately after they ended, saying in a statement: “What we have witnessed today in a Brazilian court room was a politically motivated attack.
“The hearing was a farce. Zero evidence was produced by the prosecutors whilst Lula and his legal team have produced overwhelming evidence of his innocence today.”
THE TRIAL JUDGE
Forty-four-year-old Sérgio Moro is a crusading federal judge who has become a national hero for jailing the rich and powerful in a gargantuan corruption scandal.
This is how Igor Romario, a lead federal police investigator, described Moro: “The Car Wash investigation could not have just one hero. There are judges, prosecutors, detectives, but Moro is at the centre of it. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Moro’s popularity has grown over the years that many Brazilians are suggesting that he should run for the presidency next October.
But another section of the country sees Moro as serving the interests of a cabal of billionaires who have also been accused of masterminding the impeachment of Dilma Rouseff, the female president that succeeded Lula.
In his verdict, Moro said of Lula: “Between the crimes of corruption and money laundering, there are sufficient grounds for sentences totalling nine years and six months of incarceration.”
DILMA ROUSEFF TRIED TO SAVE LULA
Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, was formerly his chief of staff before she was elected the first female Brazilian President. But she would be impeached and removed from office in 2016, following an alleged involvement in the “Car Wash” corruption scandal.
However, months before she was impeached, Rousseff tried to save her former principal from prosecution by handing him a ministerial appointment as the chief of her cabinet. Ministerial rank meant Lula was temporarily free from the risk of immediate arrest unless so ordered by the Supreme Court.
That was exactly what happened. The “Car Wash” case continued, Lula continued facing trial and Rousseff was impeached.
ANY SIMILARITY WITH NIGERIA?
Back home in Nigeria, there has been a number of corruption investigations involving highly placed politicial figures, including former Presidents, which have simply not seen the light of the day.
Many of these cases have been concluded and findings from them have been used to successfully prosecute and jail citizens of other countries who were found culpable.
Examples include the Halliburton and Siemens corruption scandals, and most recently, the Malabu oil deal scandal.
Investigations into the scandals have been concluded and culprits jailed in other countries but in Nigeria, because it involved “powerful” men, former presidents included, nobody has been made to face the music.
However, in January 2016, Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation, assured Nigerians that the Muhammau Buhari administration was not shying away from them because top military officers were allegedly involved.