Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the most popular ex-president in Brazil , has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison after being found guilty on corruption and money-laundering charges.
Lula, one of the country’s most popular politicians, and a serious blow to his chances of a political comeback.
The former union leader, who won global praise for policies to reduce stinging inequality in Brazil, faces four more corruption trials and will remain free on appeal.
Judge Sergio Moro found Lula, 71, guilty of accepting 3.7 million reais (US$1.2 million) worth of bribes from engineering firm OAS SA, the amount of money prosecutors said the company spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help winning contracts with state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro.
Federal prosecutors have accused Lula, Brazil’s first working-class president from 2003 to 2011, of masterminding a long-running corruption scheme that was uncovered in a probe into kickbacks around Petrobras.
Lula’s legal team said in an emailed statement that he was innocent and they would appeal.
“For over three years, Lula has been subject to a politically motivated investigation,” they wrote. “No credible evidence of guilt has been produced, and overwhelming proof of his innocence blatantly ignored.”
Lula’s lawyer Cristiano Martins has repeatedly accused judge Moro of being biased against his client, which Moro strongly denies.
Moro wrote in his ruling that he “took no personal satisfaction in this conviction, quite to the contrary”.
“It’s lamentable that a president of the republic is criminally convicted,” Moro said. “No matter how important you are, no one is above the law.”
Lula would be barred from office if his guilty verdict is upheld by an appeals court, which is expected to take at least eight months to rule.