By: Joana Oliveira
Sao Paulo, Brazil (AA) - The three magistrates of the Federal Regional Court 4 (TRF4), in Porto Alegre Brazil, ratified the decision of federal judge, Sérgio Moro, expanding the ruling against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers' Party (PT), from nine and a half years of prison for passive corruption and money laundering to 12 years and a month.
Lula, who is charged in six other cases in the Brazilian justice system and also leads in the October presidential election polls, had previously been sentenced by Moro, to nine and a half years in July 2017, for having received a luxurious three-story apartment on the São Paulo coast as a bribe, by the Brazilian construction company OAS. The former president will not go to jail until all second appeals are exhausted from the sentence.
With this conviction, the former president becomes ineligible based on the Clean Record Act (ironically, sanctioned by himself in 2010), but the party can resort to postpone the ruling's execution as a way to gain time in order to win the election.
Before the ruling was known, Lula said he was "extremely calm". "I am aware that I did not commit any crime," he told his associates at the headquarters of the Metallurgists Union of São Paulo, where he began his political career in 1980.
The federal magistrates of the TRF4, and the Prosecutor's Office, rejected the defense's arguments, which through lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, said that there is not enough evidence against the former president and that Sergio Moro did not judge the case unbiasedly. The first judge to cast his vote, João Pedro Gebran Neto, considered that there is "beyond the shadow of doubt" evidence that Lula was one of the articulators, if not the main articulator, of a "broad system of corruption" in Petrobras (OAS is implied by having been favored with billionaire contracts from the state oil company in exchange for political favors).
The magistrate recommended to increase Lula's sentence to 12 years and one month. "The evidence indicates that he was aware of what was happening and offered support," he said. The magistrate relied, above all, on the statements of witnesses who claim that the former president and his wife Marisa, who died last year, visited the building along with the president of the construction company, and that the company decorated the apartment and equipped it with furniture and appliances.
Another proof presented by Gebran during three hours of intervention, was the declaration of Lula's income, in which the property was declared in 2014, before the case became public.
Regarding the argument of the former president's defense that Lula suffers from "political persecution", Gebran has argued that he does not judge the "man, a recognized statesman," but "the one who committed a crime". "Members of various political parties have been condemned, and the PT was not even the first one investigated by Operation Lava Jato," he stated.
Judge Leandro Paulsen, reviewer of the process, indicated that Lula must "answer for the crime of corruption, which he himself turned into a serious crime" during his first term in 2010. "The same happened with Nixon at Watergate, whose scrutiny was done with laws of his own authorship". Paulsen stressed that all the judges in the case act with exemption, applying the law to everyone, "independent of party lines."
Paulsen cited the "Mensalão" case (a scandal about vote buying in the National Congress between 2005 and 2006), to highlight that illicit acts were already demonstrated during Lula's second term.
Judge Victor Laus took part of his intervention time to praise the work of Sérgio Moro and prosecutors in the investigation of Operation Lava Jato.
Lula's future plans
"I do not know what will happen now. We still have a long time to show that it is a mistake, to show the lies against the PT and against Lula," said the former president.
The PT intends to hold a major political event on Thursday, which will serve as the official launch of Lula´s campaign for President. The party will intensify the electoral agenda, as part of the strategy trying to give an air of normalcy to the candidacy of Lula, even with a setback in Justice. "We are not going to accept this sentence with our arms crossed”, said Alexandre Padilha, one of the PT vice-presidents.
Lula, who traveled to Porto Alegre on the eve of the trial, where he was surrounded by about 10,000 followers and militants of his party, who camped in the city, announced that he will hold a "caravan" in the south of the country in February. At the end of 2017, he toured the Northeast region of the country, where the PT historically leads the elections. "Only one thing can get me out of the streets of this country, the day in which I die”.
*Ahmed Fawzi Mostefai contributed to this report.