Brazil’s Ex-President Sentenced to Prison

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Brazil’s most popular ex-president, Lula da Silva, has been condemned to almost 10 years in prison on charges of corruption and money laundering.

Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, known popularly as Lula, is the first ex-president to be condemned in Brazilian history. Judge Sergio Moro sentenced him to nine years and six months jail time in his ruling of over two hundred pages; however, he acknowledged the gravity of condemning an ex-president, and has allowed him to remain at liberty during his appeal.

Lula was put on trial as part of Operation Car Wash, the most extensive corruption investigation in history. It all started with the Brazilian state petrol company, Petrobras, which was deliberately overpaying on contracts to construction firms, if the companies paid money into secret accounts. This money was then sent to the politicians who appointed the directors of Petrobras in the first place, including Lula. The judge found that money had been funnelled into Lula’s coalition government. The trial was focused on a seaside apartment that Lula allegedly received from the construction company OAS, worth over $700,000. This apartment was only part of a total of £21 million-worth of bribes that this company paid Lula’s Workers’ Party.

Other than this trial, Lula is due to face four more on charges of corruption, influence peddling, and obstruction of justice. President Lula da Silva rose to fame at the end of the Brazilian dictatorship in the early 1980s as the leader of the Workers’ Party, who were a left-wing coalition of trade unions, political parties, intellectuals and various movements.

He was the first-ever president born poor, and he promised radical change, including an end to corruption. In the end, to push his agenda it seems he became corrupt, although during his two terms in office he pulled tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty and it was his government that allowed an independent judiciary to flourish, out of which Operation Car Wash emerged.

At the moment he is the Workers’ Party’s candidate in the 2018 general elections, and polls show him as the most popular candidate. A condemnation from a higher court would prevent him from running. He has declared himself innocent through every step of his trial, and he continues to do so. His party is labelling him as a victim of a right-wing conspiracy, just as his presidential successor, Dilma Rousseff, was named the victim of a coup after she was impeached last year by her coalition partner and vice-president, Michel Temer.

The current president, Mr Temer, is also being dogged with corruption accusations. He was charged recently, and there is a vote in Congress soon to see if he should be suspended from office and put on trial.

As his government is cutting police funding and money going to Operation Car Wash, as well as education and health, it is unlikely that he will be condemned. He recently managed to pass reforms to Brazil’s labour laws, cutting the cost of the pension system, and allowing firms to easily hire temporary workers, even for extended periods of time. The passing of this new legislation without any changes has provided support to the president.

The Brazilian government is trying to shut Operation Car Wash down, with the support of parties across the spectrum (including the Workers’ Party). If they manage it, the scale of corruption in Brazilian politics will never be discovered; if they do not, who knows how many more politicians will fall.

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Spanish, Portuguese and European Studies student, on her year abroad in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

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