Brazil's Supreme Court today rejected former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's bid to delay a 12 year prison sentence for corruption in a ruling that could upend presidential elections in Latin America's biggest country. Opinion polls put him on course for a third term in October's election despite the conviction and six pending bribery cases.
Villas Boas wrote that the army would not now depart from its constitutional role, but some retired officers have warned that the military might indeed be tempted to intervene if the Supreme Court allowed Lula to go free on appeal. An appeals court upheld the conviction in January, and the three reviewing magistrates even lengthened the sentence to 12 years and one month.
The final decision on imprisonment, including the choice of jail, is likely to come before Moro on Monday, and the trial judge's track record in Brazil's infamous Car Wash corruption probe does not bode well for Lula.
Da Silva, who is known commonly as Lula, was convicted of corruption and money laundering last July and was and sentenced to nearly 10 years of imprisonment. His Workers' Party said the ruling was a "tragic day for democracy and Brazil".
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Four months later, the court suspended the sentence and ordered the actor not to leave the country without formal permission. The Chief Judicial Magistrate, Dev Kumar Khatri, while announcing the verdict, called the actor a "habitual offender".
Mr Da Silva, who was once wildly popular after his two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, has become a polarising figure amid a massive corruption scandal that has roiled Brazil the last several years and made average citizens furious with the political class.
A former metalworker and trade union activist, he was the first left-wing leader to make it to the presidency in Brazil in almost half a century. "I can't accept an innocent man being in prison", she said. He denies any wrongdoing in that case or in several other corruption cases that have yet to be tried.
Investigators uncovered a major scheme in which construction companies essentially formed a cartel that doled out inflated contracts from state oil company Petrobras, paying billions in kickbacks to politicians and businessmen.
The decision by the Supreme Federal Tribunal means that da Silva will likely soon be forced to begin serving his 12-year sentence. The Superior Electoral Court could decide to make such an exception if Lula registers as a presidential candidate before the August 15 deadline.
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Lula's conviction was upheld on a first appeal.
Lula himself was convicted of receiving a renovated beachfront apartment worth some 3.7 million reais ($1.1m, £790,000), as a bribe by engineering firm OAS.
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He has been largely blessed with good health, but he has been admitted to hospital with various complaints in recent years. Buckingham Palace have not given any further details of the procedure, other than to say the operation is on his hip.