Brazil's Lula turns himself in to police after tense showdown

Former president maintains innocence but surrenders to police to begin serving 12-year jail sentence for corruption.

    Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has handed himself over to police to begin a 12-year prison sentence for corruption, according to local media.

    The 72-year-old left on Saturday the steel-workers union building where he had sought refuge while defying for some 24 hours a court deadline to submit to custody.

    Lula was taken away from the premises in an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo in a convoy of black police cars, Globo TV reported.

    An earlier attempt to leave the offices had been blocked by a crowd of supporters who opposed his arrest and blocked the exit of the building.

    Lula is now expected to be flown to the southern city of Curitiba to start serving his sentence, where a "specially designed jail cell" awaited the former president, said Al Jazeera's Daniel Schweimler, reporting from Sao Paulo. 

    Lula maintained his corruption conviction was a way for political rivals to make sure he does not run in October's elections [Miguel Schincariol/AFP]

    'I will come out of this bigger, stronger'

    Lula's lawyers had lodged several requests to avoid jail until exhausting all appeals against his corruption conviction, which were all ultimately unsuccessful. 

    The leftist politician, who was president from 2003 to 2011, was convicted in July of corruption and money-laundering in connection with the renovation of a beachside penthouse he was planning to buy.

    The renovation was bankrolled by a company seeking contracts with the state oil giant Petrobras.

    The case was linked to the massive Lava Jato corruption scandal surrounding Petrobras, which has led to the jailing of dozens of entrepreneurs and politicians. 

    Judge Sergio Moro sentenced Lula to nine-and-a-half years in prison, and an appeals court raised the jail term to 12 years and one month. 

    The judge had ordered Lula to report to a police station in Curitiba by 5pm (20:00 GMT) on Friday. But Lula skipped the deadline and spent the night holed up inside the headquarters of the steel-workers union.

    Thousands of his supporters surrounded the building overnight, dissuading the police from trying to arrest him. 

    He finally emerged on Saturday morning for an impromptu mass to commemorate his late wife, Marisa Leticia, who died last year.

    In an hour-long speech at the event, Lula accused the judiciary and Brazil's most powerful media conglomerate of assisting what he described as a right-wing "coup" with the ultimate aim of preventing him from competing in this year's presidential elections. 

    Despite his legal problems, opinion polls suggest that he will win in the October 7 vote.

    During his speech, Lula told cheering supporters that Brazil's top anti-corruption judge "lied" about him being given the luxury apartment by a big construction firm as a kickback. 

    "I am the only human being to be put on trial for an apartment which does not belong to me," he said.

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    But, he added: "I will comply with their warrant".

    Lula also rejected multiple suggestions of fleeing or seeking asylum abroad.

    "You'll see that I will come out of this bigger, stronger," he said, promising to prove his innocence.

    The union where Lula had sought refuge served as the launch pad for his career nearly four decades ago, when he led nationwide strikes that helped to end Brazil's 1964-85 military dictatorship.

    Lula's everyman style and unvarnished speeches electrified masses and eventually won him two terms as president, from 2003 to 2011, when he oversaw robust economic growth and falling inequality amid a commodities boom.

    He left office with a sky-high approval rate of 83 percent and was once called "the most popular politician on Earth" by former US President Barack Obama.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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