Brazil Senate advances bill that could put Lula back in jail

FILE PHOTO: Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during the opening ceremony of the Workers Party (PT) Congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s Senate took a step on Tuesday toward restoring mandatory imprisonment for convicts after they lose their first appeal, a move that could return former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to jail for corruption.

The Senate’s constitution and justice committee voted 22-1 for an amendment that would fix in stone a judicial rule that is seen to be crucial in ending impunity due to drawn-out lawsuits and a huge backlog in court cases.

Last month, the Supreme Court, in a 6-5 decision, overturned a three-year-old rule that it itself had established sending convicted criminals to prison after losing their first appeal and cutting short endless processes.

That Nov. 7 ruling allowed Lula to obtain his release the next day, pending appeals against two convictions for corruption. Businessmen convicted of paying bribes and kickbacks in the so-called Car Wash corruption scandal were also freed.

Lula’s release angered supporters of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and other Brazilians who want to see an end to political corruption, and that prompted lawmakers to advance bills to restore a stricter rule on appeals.

“This vote resulted from the growing awareness of the issue among lawmakers, to the relief of many Brazilians,” said Senator Lasier Martins, author of the bill. He urged senators to put the bill to a vote in the Senate plenary this week so that the lower chamber can deal with it before the year is over.

But the house has its own bill going through committee debates that is more likely to make the statute books because it seeks the same outcome by changing the penal code instead of amending the constitution and needs fewer votes to get approved.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Leslie Adler