In a major blow to his chances of returning to office, former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva lost his appeal against a 2017 corruption conviction Wednesday. A federal appellate court not only voted unanimously to uphold a lower court decision, but also to increase Lula’s sentence from nine years and six months to 12 years and one month in prison.
In July 2017, Judge Sérgio Moro, who oversees the long-running Operation Car Wash corruption probe, found the former leftist president guilty of corruption and money laundering. Prosecutors had claimed Lula and his wife, the now-deceased former first lady Marisa Letícia, illicitly received millions of reais in kickbacks from construction giant OAS , as well as furniture and improvements to their beachfront condo in Guarujá, a resort town in São Paulo state.
While Lula has vowed take his appeal to a higher court, the court’s decision could rule him out of October’s presidential election. The 72-year-old, who rose to prominence as a labor leader, has maintained that the case is politically motivated, and has been touring the country to rally supporters since his July conviction. Thousands of Lula boosters, including union activists and Workers’ Party members, gathered outside the court to show support as the appeal was heard.
Lula’s absence from the ballot would radically alter Brazil’s political landscape ahead of a presidential election that was already bound to be contentious. He is currently the clear favorite in the poll, with 34 percent of voters favoring his candidacy, according to the latest Datafolha projections. That is double the percentage of his nearest rival, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman and former army captain linked to the military dictatorship that ran the country for two decades.