Brazil lawyers press top court justice for injunction to free Lula

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A Brazilian association of criminal lawyers requested on Monday that a Supreme Court justice issue an injunction freeing former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who began serving a 12-year sentence for bribery over the weekend.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is carried by supporters in front of the metallurgic trade union in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto

The request from the association was filed to Justice Marco Aurelio Mello and asked that he free anyone who is in jail but has not yet had the chance to bring their case before Brazil’s top appeals court, which is the situation with Lula.

If Mello accepts the request and issues an injunction, Lula would be freed, though his decision would be temporary and have to be taken up by the full Supreme Court. Mello’s office declined to comment on the matter.

Action by the top court is the quickest way that the former president could be freed. He turned himself in to police this weekend to serve his time, effectively removing the frontrunner from this year’s October presidential election.

Lula’s lawyers are focusing their hopes on action by the Supreme Court, according to one member of the legal team who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The source acknowledged there was no clear alternative method of freeing Lula. Lula’s counsel is still reeling from the speed of court decisions against the former president in the past week.

Brazil’s currency and stocks fell on Monday as traders fretted over the presidential race now thrown wide open without Lula, who easily leads all polling. The real was down 1 percent against the dollar and the Bovespa stock index dropped nearly 2 percent.

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Lula was found guilty in August of accepting bribes worth 3.7 million reais ($1 million) from engineering firm OAS, which prosecutors accuse of refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help winning contracts with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Lula lawyer Cristiano Zanin told Reuters on Monday that the defense “will use all legal means to reverse (his) illegal imprisonment.”

Zanin declined to go into detail as to what immediate action Lula’s legal team would take to try to free him from a jail cell in a federal police building in southern Brazil.

In a video posted on Lula’s official Facebook page on Sunday, Zanin said that he had seen Lula and that “he is doing well, though indignant with the situation.”

In addition to a possible injunction, Supreme Court Justice Mello could also use a technical maneuver during the high court’s session on Wednesday to force the justices to re-examine a 2016 ruling that set the precedent for jailing Lula.

In that decision, the court decided that the condemned could begin serving prison sentences if their conviction was upheld on a first appeal.

Mello is one of several justices who have publicly clamored to revisit that ruling and overturn it. Critics have said that would be a blow against Brazil’s unprecedented anti-corruption efforts of the last four years.

The appeals process can take years or even decades in Brazil’s complex and backlogged legal system, offering impunity to those rich enough to afford lawyers who can launch countless technical appeals.

Top federal prosecutor Raquel Dodge argued before the high court last week if they overturned the ruling allowing convicts to be jailed after a first appeal, it would “call into question the seriousness of the country’s legal system ... as it would restore the sensation of impunity.”

Reporting by Ricardo Brito; additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; editing by G Crosse and Cynthia Osterman