By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CURITIBA, Brazil – Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva surrendered himself to police after a day-long standoff. The politician has begun his twelve-year prison term for money laundering and corruption.
Lula was taken into custody on Saturday in Sao Paulo and was flown to the southern city of Curitiba. Just hours earlier, he told thousands of supporters that he would surrender to police while still maintaining his innocence. Lula argues that his corruption conviction is just a way to keep him from running for re-election in October.
Judge Sergio Moro ordered the arrest warrant for Lula, giving him until 5 p.m. Friday to present himself to police. Instead, Lula chose to hunker down in the metal workers union headquarters where his rise to power began. The once very popular leader still has a large support base who gathered at the headquarters to keep him from going to jail.
When he first tried to leave, dozens of people blocked the gate where his car was trying to exit. His supporters had a few minutes of tense words with the guards until Lula got out of the car and went back into the building. He emerged a second time later that night surrounded by bodyguards who kept supporters away. He reported to police and was transported by helicopter to his cell in Curitiba.
Currently, Lula is appealing his conviction for corruption. The Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s top court, decided in a six to five vote that Lula could not remain free while appealing his conviction. However, it would only take one justice to change his mind for Lula to be released while pursuing his appeals. These could take months if not years. Additionally, Lula is facing six separate pending trials for corruption.
Polls conducted before he was jailed report that Lula was the frontrunner for the October presidential election. He claims that he is a political prisoner of the opposition party. Lula said, “The police and ‘Car Wash’ investigators lied. The prosecution lied, and I don’t forgive them for giving society the idea that I am a thief.”
Supporters have staged a “Free Lula” camp outside of the federal building where he is being held. They say they will not budge until he is released. Police estimated about 700 people camping around the building with more expected to arrive. The leader of the Workers’ Party, Gleisi Hoffmann, said Lula is a political prisoner and the party will not give up the fight to have him released.
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