Legal system

Brazil court upholds Lula conviction, reduces sentence

Lawyers call for acquittal of Brazil’s ex-president and claim the superior court did not judge the merits of the case

Leia em português | Leer en español | Brasil de Fato | Brasília

,
Superior court ruled that Lula has to serve 17 months to gain partial freedom; he could qualify for “semi-open” conditions by September / Sergio Lima/AFP

In a unanimous decision, a Brazilian superior court panel reduced on Tuesday ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s sentence for a conviction in the Guarujá beachside apartment case.

The four judges on a Superior Court of Justice panel cut Lula’s sentence from 12 years and one month to eight years, ten months, and twenty days, ruling that the former president will have to serve 17 months to gain partial freedom.

As Lula has been serving a prison sentence on a corruption and money-laundering conviction since April last year, that means he will be eligible for detention under semi-open conditions within less than five months. They also reduced the fine imposed for damages, from R$29 million to R$2.4 million (roughly US$610,000).

A member of Brazil’s national network of lawyers who work with and for people’s movements, Patrick Mariano argued that the decision by the country’s second highest court shows the sentence originally imposed by an appeals court was “excessive.” He pointed out, however, that the superior court should have gone further. “They actually should have nullified the process altogether. There is no evidence [against Lula] and several nulities [in the case],” he pointed out.

A lawyer of the former president, Cristiano Zanin Martins argued that the court did not judge the merits of the case.

“The defense is displeased with the result of the trial, because we understand that the only possible outcome should be acquitting ex-president Lula, because he did not commit any crimes,” he wrote in a statement. “On the other hand, we do have to acknowledge that at least a new step was taken to overcome the abuses committed against the ex-president by Operation Car Wash. For the first time, a court acknowledged that the sentences imposed by judge Sérgio Moro and TRF4 [the appeals court that upheld the conviction and increased Lula’s prison sentence] were abusive.”

One of the main issues Zanin raises is the fact that Lula’s defense was not allowed to present oral arguments during the session. Brazil’s Constitution guarantees the right to a fair hearing, the lawyer argued, which should prevail over any other house rules, as recently reiterated by the country’s Supreme Court.

Zanin also stated that the defense was not officially informed that the Superior Court of Justice would try Lula’s appeal on Tuesday, and that his lawyers did not have enough time to prepare for the hearing.

The trial

Lula’s defense argued that Brazil’s popular ex-president was charged in a case of misapplication of funds that benefitted parties, including his Workers’ Party, and for this reason the case should be tried by an election court.

Even though the judicial panel cut Lula’s sentence, the judges did not rule in favor of other appeals filed by the defense, including acquitting the former president for nullities of procedure in the case or, alternatively, remitting the case to the election court.

The judges of the Superior Court of Justice panel argued that part of the defense’s demands were not previously reviewed by lower courts, and therefore they could not rule on them.

Regarding other aspects, such as whether the then judge Sérgio Moro had jurisdiction over the case, the panel upheld previous court decisions. The judges also argued that Lula was not charged with any election offenses, and therefore there were no grounds to nullify the case with the federal courts to remit it to the election court.

After the trial, the defense reiterated that Lula is innocent and that he will fight to prove it. “The leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is being tried by enemies, natural and historical opponents, who are his class opponents.”

Read the full statement disclosed by lawyer Cristiano Zanin Martins after the Superior Court of Justice panel’s decision:

“We respect the position taken today (Apr. 23) by the Honorable Judges of the Superior Court of Justice, but we express that the defense is displeased with the result of the trial, as we understand that the only possible outcome is the acquittal of ex-president Lula, because he did not commit any crimes.

We understand that the Court made used of formalities that are not applicable to this specific case and did not effectively judge the merits of it, as per the appeal. There are no legal grounds for the charges against Lula.

We also express our objection to the fact that the defense was not allowed to attend the trial and present oral arguments. The constitutional guarantee of the right to a fair hearing should prevail over any other house rules. The country’s Supreme Court recently ruled on this matter by allowing lawyers to present oral arguments during hearings on internal interlocutory appeals filed in petitions for habeas corpus.

On the other hand, we do have to acknowledge that at least a new step was taken to overcome the abuses committed against the ex-president by Operation Car Wash. For the first time, a court acknowledged that the sentences imposed by judge Sérgio Moro and TRF4 [the appeals court that upheld the conviction and increased Lula’s prison sentence] were abusive.

It’s not much. But it is a start.

We hope that higher courts that are still expected to rule on the process help restore the rule of law in our country, which means acquitting Lula and restoring his freedom.”

Edition: Daniel Giovanaz