Brazil's Former President Lula Sentenced To Prison For Corruption

Jul 12, 2017
Originally published on July 12, 2017 5:34 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been convicted of corruption. He's been sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison. Right now he's free pending appeal. Lula denies that he has done anything wrong. He claims the charges are politically motivated. The case is part of a sprawling corruption investigation involving Brazil's elite. NPR's Philip Reeves is on the line from Rio de Janeiro. Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: What's the reaction there to Lula's conviction?

REEVES: Very divided, actually. Lula's opponents are delighted, of course, and they've been saying so in large numbers on social media. But Lula still enjoys very significant support here. He's been a giant on the political scenes for decades. And when he left office at the end of 2010, his popularity rating was over 80 percent. He was president at a prosperous time. And his supporters tend to revere him as this kind of working-class leader, charismatic guy who came out of poverty through the trade union movement and who, when he finally won office, pulled millions of Brazilians out of poverty and raised Brazil's international profile by securing the soccer World Cup and the Olympics. So if this conviction actually marks Lula's departure from the political scene, it will leave a huge gap on the political stage, especially on the left.

SHAPIRO: And it comes as he was making a political comeback with an eye toward possibly running again in next year's presidential election. How does this conviction affect that plan?

REEVES: Yeah, in fact, his lawyers and his political party portray this case as a witch hunt to prevent him from running for the presidency again. He's seen as the front-runner right now. And at the moment, he can still run. But if his conviction's upheld on appeal, then he would be barred from office. And since he's 71 years old, it would be game over for him politically. This particular conviction is for accepting kickbacks worth a little over a million dollars from an engineering company, money that he's accused of using to refurbish an apartment by the beach. But let's not forget that Lula's facing other trials for graft. And so even if he wins the appeal, the former president's troubles will be far from over.

SHAPIRO: And as we said, this is part of a much larger corruption investigation. Brazil's current president is in trouble. Bring us up to date on that case.

REEVES: Indeed, Michel Temer is trying very hard to avoid the same fate as Lula. He's been fighting for his political life for weeks, actually, ever since a secret recording emerged of him apparently endorsing hush-money payments. He's now been charged by Brazil's attorney general with corruption. And the matter's in the hands of Congress. And if the lower house - the lower house is going to vote soon over whether to go ahead with the indictment. And if two-thirds approve, then Temer would be suspended for 180 days and the presidential - the president's job would be assumed by the speaker temporarily. And the case would go to the Supreme Court. We don't know whether Temer can survive this scandal. His support would be wafer thin and getting thinner.

SHAPIRO: Back to Lula for just a moment. As you've said, he plans to appeal. What happens? How long will that take?

REEVES: We don't know for sure. I mean, there seems to be a consensus here that the wheels of the - of justice move slowly and that an appeal could take months and perhaps many months. This case is all part of what's known as the Car Wash investigation. It's been going on for three years now. Lula was convicted by Sergio Moro, the federal judge who's almost as famous as he is for leading these prosecutions that have engulfed a huge section of this country's political elite, the top politicians and business executives, and dispatched dozens of them to jail. So Brazilians who've been watching this, I think, with amazement and disgust have grown used to cases dragging on and being somewhat unpredictable.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Philip Reeves speaking with us from Rio de Janeiro. Thanks, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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