World News

Judge Orders Brazil to Release Ex-President Lula, Setting Off Legal Uproar

Posted July 8, 2018 2:05 p.m. EDT
Updated July 8, 2018 2:06 p.m. EDT

RIO DE JANEIRO — A judge in Brazil ruled Sunday that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva be released from prison while he continues to appeal a corruption conviction, an unexpected decision that touched off an immediate legal and political uproar.

The order was the latest twist in the tumultuous lead-up to Brazil’s presidential election in October. Even from prison, da Silva holds a lead in the polls. He is hoping to be on the ballot even though the corruption conviction for which he is serving a 12-year sentence makes him legally ineligible to run for office.

Yet as uncertainty about da Silva’s fate ignited a fierce debate among Brazilians, Judge João Pedro Gebran Neto, the chief appellate judge overseeing the case, overruled the order authorizing the release and instructed police to keep the former president in custody.

The saga began early Sunday when a federal judge, Rogério Favreto, who has ties to da Silva’s leftist Workers’ Party, ordered the former president’s release.

According to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, Favreto was a member of the Workers’ Party for nearly 20 years and served in da Silva’s administration from 2005 to 2010.

Favreto was the weekend duty judge in the region where da Silva is being held, and critics said Lula’s lawyers had tried to get the issue before a favorable judge. Favreto said that releasing da Silva would allow his “effective participation in the democratic process.”

The ruling contravenes a decision from Favreto’s own court, which ordered da Silva arrested in April.

The order prompted a quick rebuke from the trial judge, Sergio Moro, who urged federal police officials to disregard Favreto’s order. In an order, he wrote that Favreto did not have the legal authority to urge the release.

Supporters of the Workers’ Party, hoping the initial order would prevail, gathered outside the Federal Police building in the southern city of Curitiba, where he has been held since April. Da Silva has portrayed himself as a political prisoner and has resisted pressure from some in the party to anoint a successor who can be on the ballot.

Sen. Gleisi Hoffmann, the president of the party, hailed the initial order.

“This is victory, a victory of democracy,” she said in a video posted online.

But legal experts said the initial order was unlikely to pass muster. Ivar Hartmann, a law professor at the Getúlio Vargas University, said Favreto’s order did not take into account any new information that had not been presented to higher courts.

“His candidacy was announced a long time ago,” he said.

Moro convicted da Silva of corruption and money laundering last July for accepting a seaside apartment remodeled to his liking as a bribe.

An appellate court upheld the conviction in January. Since then, the country’s top courts have rejected several arguments by lawyers who urged that da Silva remain free pending his appeals.

Da Silva faces several other corruption charges.