Brazil’s Top Court Paves Way to Free Thousands Including Lula

Samy Adghirni and Flavia Said

(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva requested his release from jail less than 24 hours after a high-profile court decision reversed rules for imprisoning convicts.

Lula’s personal lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, submitted the request after meeting with the leftist leader on Friday, news portal G1 reported. Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday night that convicted criminals should be jailed only after all of their appeals are exhausted.

The move puts the leftist icon one step closer to freedom after serving a year and a half of a sentence for crimes he says he did not commit. If released, Lula would still be barred from taking political office. Still, his presence may galvanize the country’s political left, which opposes President Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-market proposals.

“This makes foreign investors suspicious when they have to make long-term decisions in Brazil,” said Gilmar Alves Lima, an economist at Banco BMG.

Brazil’s real weakened the most among emerging market currencies on Friday as financial markets digested the news.

‘Unfairly Jailed’

The former president was convicted of corruption in 2017 and lost two appeals since then, but he has not exhausted the entire process. Dozens of Senators and deputies, as well as members of Bolsonaro’s own family and advocacy groups have pressured the court to keep the status quo.

Thursday evening’s 6-5 decision reverses the recent practice of jailing criminals whose convictions were upheld on a first appeal -- a practice that was instrumental in the success of the Carwash anti-corruption probe. The Supreme Court’s decision shows that the former president has been “unfairly jailed for 579 days,” Lula’s lawyers wrote in a statement.

Fireworks exploded late on Thursday near the Supreme Court in Brasilia as Lula’s supporters celebrated the decision. Argentina’s President-elect Alberto Fernandez also welcomed the ruling, posting on Twitter: #FreeLulaTomorrow! The former president intends to attend Fernandez’s inauguration next month, according to the Workers’ Party leader in the lower house. It’s unclear, however, if he would be able to leave the country.

The leader of Bolsonaro’s party in the Senate, Major Olimpio, said the decision was cause of “shame” and that the top court’s justices “voted in favor of criminals and against the Brazilian people.”

The ruling can benefit many wealthy and powerful prisoners brought down by Carwash, who will now seek to extend the appeals process to stay out of jail. Brazil’s National Justice Council estimates the decision could free as many as 5,000 prisoners.

(Recasts story with news of request from Lula’s defense.)

--With assistance from Simone Iglesias.

To contact the reporters on this story: Samy Adghirni in Brasilia Newsroom at sadghirni@bloomberg.net;Flavia Said in Brasilia at fsaid7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Walter Brandimarte at wbrandimarte@bloomberg.net, Matthew Malinowski

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