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Brazil’s attorney-general urges top court to reject Lula’s effort to avoid prison

Brazil’s attorney-general on Tuesday urged the country’s top court to reject a request by former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to stay out of prison while he appeals a corruption conviction.

Attorney-General Raquel Dodge called Da Silva’s habeas corpus request an “exaggeration,” arguing that delaying his sentence would amount to a failure of the justice system. The Supreme Federal Tribunal was expected to make a decision on the request on Wednesday.

“Tomorrow the Supreme Federal Tribunal must make one of its most notable, significant and important judgments,” Dodge said during a session of the Superior Council of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

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Dodge added that only affluent people who could “pay super-expensive lawyers” were able to stay out of prison by submitting repeated appeals.

Da Silva, who leads preference polls for October’s presidential election, was convicted last year of trading favours with a construction company for a promised beachfront apartment. The initial conviction, levelled by Judge Sergio Moro, was upheld in January by an appeals court in Porto Alegre, which increased the sentence to 12 years and one month.

Da Silva has always maintained his innocence, arguing this case and several others against him are a ploy to keep him off the ballot.

While Da Silva can appeal the conviction to higher courts, under Brazilian law a judge can order a convict to begin serving his sentence once the initial conviction is upheld on appeal.

In an unrelated case, in 2016 the same court upheld the legality of jailing a convict after a first appeal was denied. The decision was celebrated by many legal experts who said it would stop convicts with the means to stay out of jail for years by making one appeal after another.

Anna Julia Menezes Rodrigues, a specialist in criminal law at Braga Nascimento e Zilio, said that if the court reverses itself for Da Silva, other convicts will use the decision to try to postpone serving their sentences.

“We would be faced with a risky precedent,” she said.

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If his petition is denied, Da Silva would be arrested and jailed.

Chief Justice Carmen Lucia called for calm, regardless of Wednesday’s outcome.

“We live in times of intolerance and intransigence against people and institutions,” she said in a written statement. “For this very reason, this is a time when one must ask for serenity. Serenity so that ideological differences are not a source of social disorder.”

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