Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president, has been ordered to turn himself in to the authorities to serve the 12-year jail sentence he was given after being convicted of corruption, The Guardian reports.
Lula had pleaded with the country’s supreme court to remain free until he had exhausted all his appeals, but the judges ruled by six to five against his request after 10 hours of debate.
Lula says the corruption charges against him are politically motivated and designed to stop him from running for president again in October’s election.
Despite his conviction and six separate pending corruption trials, he is leading in opinion polls. His Workers’ party (PT) described the ruling as “a tragic day for democracy and Brazil”.
The case against Lula is part of the “Car Wash” corruption investigation, which has led to the jailing of dozens of top executives and politicians and exposed bitter divisions in the country.
Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and removed from office amid a scandal and economic crisis.
The current president, Michel Temer, avoided standing trial before the supreme court last year when allies in congress shielded him from charges of corruption, obstructing justice and links to organised crime. Polls put his approval rating at 5%, but he has hinted at a run in October regardless.
Lula oversaw a period of sustained economic growth and his social policies helped lift millions of people out of poverty, but his legacy took a hit as the economy struggled under Rousseff and corruption allegations emerged against him and his leftist PT, which held power from 2003 to 2016.
Lula’s supporters, made up of groups of leftwing social movements and trade union members, gathered in the capital, Brasilia, on Wednesday, a night after thousands of anti-Lula protesters took to the streets of 100 Brazilian cities.
Douglas Grandini, who works at an estate agency and was on an anti-Lula protest, said: “The crisis that Brazil is in today comes from the bad planning and corruption of [politicians’] mandate. We’ll take 10 years to recover.”
Lula was found guilty last year and sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting bribes worth 3.7m reais (£790,000) from the OAS construction company – the amount prosecutors said the firm spent refurbishing a beach flat for Lula in return for his help in winning contracts with the state-run oil company Petrobras.
In January, an appeal court unanimously upheld his conviction and increased the sentence to 12 years.