Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will begin his 12 year prison term today after a judge gave him 24 hours to surrender to police.
The order from Judge Sergio Moro, head of Brazil’s huge “Car Wash” anti-graft probe, came as a complete surprise given that lawyers had earlier said the leftist former two-term president had at least until Tuesday before he’d have to go behind bars.
A fore-runner in the country’s October presidential election, the incarceration of Lula, 72, will throw the race completely open.
The judge added that in view of Lula’s stature as a former president, he would have “the opportunity to present himself voluntarily” to police in the city of Curitiba, where the “Car Wash” probe is based, by 5:00 pm (2000 GMT) Friday.
While there’s been no immediate reaction from Lula, Senator Lindbergh Farias, from Lula’s Workers’ Party, issued a defiant call for supporters to congregate in front of Lula’s house in Sao Bernardo near Sao Paulo on Friday.
“Moro ordered prison for Lula. Everyone to Sao Bernardo tomorrow from 5:00 am in front of Lula’s house!” he tweeted.
After a lower court appeal failed this January, Lula petitioned to the Supreme Court on Thursday to be allowed to remain free while pursuing appeals in higher courts against his conviction for receiving a seaside apartment as a bribe from a construction company.
But the Supreme Court judges ruled 6-5 in a marathon session that under the law, Lula must begin his sentence after having lost that first appeal.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s left is furious at the Supreme Court ruling, seeing Lula’s imminent imprisonment as a plot to prevent the Workers’ Party from returning to power.
Party leader Gleisi Hoffmann said the court ruling violated “constitutional law and the presumption of innocence” and made Brazil “look like a little banana republic.”
However, there were celebrations on the right and among prosecutors supporting the epic “Car Wash” probe, which has revealed high-level corruption throughout Brazilian business and politics over the last four years.
Lula, who grew up poor and with little formal education before becoming a trade union leader and politician, has vowed to go down fighting.