The Brazilian Supreme Court has ruled that a judge was “biased” in convicting former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of corruption in 2017, in the latest victory for the left-wing leader.
Justice Carmen Lucia on Tuesday reversed an earlier decision, swinging the majority 3-2 in Lula’s favour.
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The Supreme Court determined that Judge Sergio Moro, who spearheaded a wide-reaching corruption probe known as Operation Car Wash, was not impartial.
The ruling comes after a Supreme Court judge on March 8 annulled the corruption convictions against Lula, citing a jurisdictional issue with the court that heard the case, and saying he must be retried in a court in Brasilia, the capital.
That decision opens the door for Lula to run in presidential elections next year.
Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling is an enormous blow for Moro, who spearheaded the corruption investigation, and it throws out evidence that could have been used against Lula in a new trial.
Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanikiew, reporting from Rio de Janeiro, said the decision is a vindication for the former president.
“This new decision from the court basically … says that the person that tried him had his own political agenda, therefore all the evidence that was gathered against him will not be able to be used in a new trial if there is one,” she said.
Lula and his supporters had accused the judge of conspiring to keep him out of the running for Brazil’s 2018 presidential elections.
Lula was the frontrunner heading into that contest, which was ultimately won by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Moro went on to accept the post of justice minister in Bolsonaro’s government – a fact some of the justices cited in ruling Moro biased.
Bruno Fernandes, a criminal lawyer and expert in penal law at Braga and Fernandes Lawyers, a firm in Rio de Janeiro, told Al Jazeera this month that he believed Moro’s probe overstepped legal boundaries.
It “did not honour Lula’s right to a fair trial”, Fernandes said.
Candidacy still unclear
Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2010, has not yet confirmed his plans for a potential presidential run next year.
During an event on March 10, Lula said he would tour the country and speak with supporters before making a final decision.
“My head has no time to think about the 2022 candidacy,” Lula said at that time. “When the moment to discuss the 2022 candidacy comes we will have immense pleasure to announce to Brazil that we are thinking about 2022.”
Brazil is currently in the throes of a coronavirus crisis, as new infections and deaths are mounting rapidly and the country’s healthcare network is stretched to its limits.
Bolsonaro, a COVID-19 sceptic who has downplayed the threat of the virus, has faced mounting pressure to account for his government’s handling of the situation.
To date, more than 295,000 people have died in Brazil due to the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data, while more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported.
On Tuesday, the far-right president officially swore in a new health minister, the fourth since the pandemic began.