Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrives at the the Federal Police headquarters on Saturday (Photographer: Andre Coelho/Bloomberg)

Brazil's Lula Spends First Night of 12-Year Sentence in Prison

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spent his first night of a 12-year sentence in prison, after turning himself in more than 24 hours past a court-ordered deadline.

Lula left the metalworkers union headquarters outside the city of Sao Paulo on Saturday, where he had hunkered down since Thursday, TV footage showed. He ended up leaving on foot, after an earlier attempt to leave by car was blocked by his supporters. Lula was then flown to Curitiba, where the federal police set up a special cell for the ex-president.

"I will comply with their order,” Lula said to a crowd of supporters gathered in front of the union office in a working-class suburb of Sao Paulo early Saturday, vowing to "face them.”

In an emotional, almost hour-long speech, given after a Mass dedicated to his late wife, Lula said he’ll be proven innocent and that the prosecutors and judges lied in their accusations. He also criticized the media and said his only crime was putting "the poor and black people in college.”

Former president Dilma Rousseff and several of Lula’s former cabinet members were present, as well as leftist presidential hopefuls.

Bitterly Divided

Lula’s surrender marked the end of an extraordinary, almost-four-day saga that gripped Brazil, a country bitterly divided over the charismatic 72-year-old who rose from poverty to the presidency. While he remains hugely popular among the millions of Brazilians he helped lift from poverty during the commodities boom that characterized his years in office, he has become equally loathed by many for the corruption and economic malaise that has marred his legacy.

As he was the front-runner for October’s presidential race, Lula’s arrest increases the unpredictability of the election. While his hopes of a return to power are almost certainly shattered, the key question now is to what extent his imprisonment will influence October’s races.

A Supreme Court decision on Wednesday paved the way for his imprisonment, following a conviction for corruption and money laundering. On Thursday Sergio Moro, the judge who prosecuted him, ordered the ex-president to turn himself in by 5 p.m on Friday to begin serving a 12-year prison sentence. The judge specifically vetoed the use of handcuffs by the arresting officers and wrote that a special detention area had been set aside for the former president. Lula’s lawyers’ requests to delay or suspend the arrest were denied by higher court judges.

The former factory worker was convicted of receiving benefits from a construction company -- including the upgrade of a beach-front apartment -- as a reward for government favors. He has denied wrongdoing and said the ruling is part of a strategy to stop him from becoming president again. He also faces a handful of other corruption charges.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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