SÃO PAULO – The Supreme Federal Court ruled that the judge who condemned former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for corruption was biased, strengthening the likely candidacy of the leftist leader next year.
In a decision on Tuesday, the court concluded that Sergio Moro, the first instance judge who oversaw the country’s Lava Jato corruption trials, did not act impartially in the case amid accusations that he trained prosecutors. The decision rejects Lula’s conviction in 2017 on allegations that he received a seaside apartment as a bribe – a conviction that later led to his arrest and prevented him from running in the last presidential elections.
After being released from prison in 2019, Lula emerged as the country’s main opposition leader and the biggest challenger to President Jair Bolsonaro, who faces growing criticism for his way of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of deaths from the virus in Brazil reached a daily record of 3,251 on Tuesday, while hospitals across the country run out of beds and face deficits in oxygen and other supplies.
The Supreme Court’s decision is “practically a checkmate” for the corruption investigation at the country’s Lava Jato, an extensive investigation launched in 2014 over inflated contracts at the oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, said Vera Chemim, a constitutional lawyer in São Paulo. “It almost certainly means [Mr. da Silva] you will be eligible to run in the next elections in 2022, ”she said.
Lula’s conviction has divided the largest country in Latin America since 2017, with supporters of the charismatic ex-metallurgist arguing that he was the victim of political persecution. After helping lead the Lava Jato investigations, Moro accepted a job as Bolsonaro’s justice minister, although he later resigned. The current president is a rival to Lula, and some political scientists say Bolsonaro would never have won the presidency if the leftist leader had been allowed to run in 2018.