Lula 2022 hopes brighten as Brazil's top court could toss graft evidence

Municipal elections in Brazil
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By Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A day after graft convictions of Brazil's leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were overturned, he may see the evidence against him thrown out by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, clearing his name ahead of a possible 2022 presidential run.

The Supreme Court said Justice Gilmar Mendes had called a Tuesday vote on an appeal by Lula's legal team alleging that Sergio Moro, the former judge who sentenced him, was not impartial in overseeing investigations of the former president.

If the top court rules in Lula's favor, it would cap a stunning reversal of fortunes for one of Brazil's most popular and divisive figures, whose political hopes appeared decimated by the corruption cases against him in recent years.

If he runs, the leftist firebrand would immediately be the leading rival next year against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose popularity has suffered in the face of a raging pandemic, rising inflation and stretched public finances.

A conviction blocked Lula's run for a third term in 2018 after he led Latin America's largest nation from 2003 to 2011.

Financial markets lurched on the prospect of a more polarized 2022 race, with Brazil's currency slipping 0.5% after a sharp drop on Monday, heading toward its weakest close since May last year, when it hit all-time lows.

Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin on Monday annulled the criminal convictions against Lula by ruling that a court in the southern city of Curitiba, where Moro presided, had lacked the authority to try Lula on corruption charges.

That decision, if upheld by the broader Supreme Court on appeal, would trigger Lula's retrial in federal courts in Brasilia, the capital, leaving open the chance of another conviction blocking a 2022 candidacy.

However, if the court sides with Lula on Tuesday in the vote called by Justice Mendes, it would effectively throw out the cases against Lula.

The precedent could also undo much of the so-called Car Wash corruption probe overseen by Moro, which led to the convictions of dozens of Brazil's political and business elite.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito,; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Brad Haynes and Dan Grebler)

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