A supporter of former President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva waves a flag while waiting at the Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba, Brazil. (Photographer: Andre Coelho/Bloomberg)

Lula's Freedom Bid Blocked by Brazil Judges Amid Legal Spat

(Bloomberg) -- A series of Brazilian judges blocked an order to release former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from jail as pressure over the fate of Brazil’s most popular politician builds in the run-up to October’s election.

The legal standoff started when appeals court judge Rogerio Favreto accepted a habeas corpus request filed by Lula’s Workers’ Party on Sunday morning, prompting immediate opposition by Sergio Moro, the judge who first convicted the former president. A battle of court injunctions ensued and eventually the head of the same appeals’ court intervened, overturning Favreto’s decision.

Lula didn’t leave jail but the sustained political noise around his 12-year sentence feeds the narrative of political persecution that keeps his political base mobilized, Eurasia analysts wrote in a note to clients. “#FreeLula has become a rallying cry for his party’s loyal base and will probably gain even more momentum after this standoff,” they wrote.

Despite his sentence for corruption, Lula remains the country’s most popular politician, leading opinion polls ahead of the presidential vote. His party insists he will be a candidate and, since his detention in April, it has filed a number of appeals in different courts, including the Supreme Court. All of them have so far been denied. Even if Lula were to be released, it remains unlikely -- though far from impossible -- that he would be legally entitled to run for election. Brazil’s top electoral court has until September 17 to issue a final ruling on his candidacy.

Competing Decisions

Favreto’s judicial order on Sunday set off a cascade of legal activity and confusion, as Brazilians greeted the news with bewilderment. Supporters and opponents of the president gathered outside the appeals court in the southern city of Porto Alegre as federal police awaited clarity on the orders.

Supreme Court President Carmen Lucia sought to reassure Brazilians that the country’s judicial system remained in working order, issuing a statement calling for a legal resolution to be offered “quickly and without breaking hierarchy.”

After the day’s judicial arm-wrestling, the president of the appeals’ court ruling that Lula should remain in jail represents the last word on the matter -- for now. However, the Workers’ Party is already citing the decision as yet further evidence of a conspiracy against the former president.

The party can “celebrate a win against Sergio Moro in the political camp,” analysts with XP Investimentos wrote in a note to clients. Moro’s decision to put on hold an order issued by a higher court judge will be used as an example of political persecution against the former president, they wrote.

Lula’s lawyers said Brazil’s courts have “permanently violated his right to a fair and impartial trial.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.