Lula 2022 hopes brighten as Brazil’s top court could toss graft evidence

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Municipal elections in Brazil
Former Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva puts on a face mask after voting at a polling station during the municipal elections in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, November 15, 2020. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli/

BRASILIA, March 9 (Reuters) - A day after overturning graft convictions of Brazil's leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Supreme Court was split on Tuesday on whether to throw out evidence against him, which could clear his name ahead of a possible 2022 presidential run.

A panel of Supreme Court judges suspended its ruling with a 2-2 decision on the appeal by Lula's legal team alleging that Sergio Moro, the former judge who sentenced him, was not impartial in overseeing investigations of the former president.

Judge Kassio Nunes Marques, who will cast the tie-breaking vote, asked to review the case, suspending judgment indefinitely.

If he eventually rules in Lula's favor, it would cap a stunning reversal of fortunes for one of Brazil's most popular and divisive figures, whose political hopes appeared decimated by the corruption cases against him in recent years.

On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin annulled the criminal convictions against Lula by ruling that a court in the southern city of Curitiba, where Moro presided, had lacked the authority to try Lula on corruption charges. read more

That surprise ruling restored Lula's political rights, clearing the way for him to enter next year's presidential race.

If he runs, the leftist firebrand would immediately be the leading rival against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose popularity has suffered in the face of a raging pandemic, rising inflation and stretched public finances. [nL8N2L753T]

A conviction blocked Lula's run for a third term in 2018, after he led Latin America's largest nation from 2003 to 2011.

Financial markets lurched on the prospect of a more polarized 2022 race. Brazil's currency slipped close to last May's all-time lows. read more

Monday's ruling, if upheld by the broader Supreme Court on appeal, would trigger Lula's retrial in federal courts in the capital Brasilia, leaving open the chance of another conviction blocking a 2022 candidacy.

However, if the court throws out the evidence gathered under Moro's instruction, it would effectively scrap the cases against Lula.

The precedent could also undo much of the so-called Car Wash corruption probe overseen by Moro, which led to the convictions of dozens of Brazil's political and business elite. read more

Reporting by Ricardo Brito Writing by Gabriel Stargardter Editing by Brad Haynes

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