A Brazilian Supreme Court judge on Monday annulled the criminal convictions against former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a move that could allow the popular politician to run in next year’s presidential election.
In a surprise decision, Justice Edson Fachin said that a court in the southern city of Curitiba did not have the authority to try Lula on corruption charges and that he must be retried in federal courts in the capital Brasilia.
The ruling, which will be reviewed by the full Supreme Court, restored Lula’s political rights, potentially blowing open the 2022 presidential race, when right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to seek re-election.
The country’s prosecutor general’s office said it would appeal the decision, a spokesperson for Prosecutor General Augusto Aras said on Monday.
Lula said in a statement shared on Twitter that the ruling on Monday “affirms the incompetence of the Federal Justice of Curitiba” and is recognition that he has been correct throughout his long legal battle.
Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Rio de Janeiro, said the court’s decision does not mean Lula has been found innocent of the charges for which he was previously convicted.
“It just means that they tried him in the wrong place and he should be retried,” she said. “But that does have a big political impact because it restores his rights to run in next year’s election.”
Yanakiew said polls before the last Brazilian elections showed that Lula would have won over Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s far-right president.
“A decisão que hoje afirma a incompetência da Justiça Federal de Curitiba é o reconhecimento de que sempre estivemos corretos nessa longa batalha jurídica.”
— Lula (@LulaOficial) March 8, 2021
Translation: The decision that today affirms the incompetence of the Federal Justice of Curitiba is the recognition that we have always been correct in this long legal battle. Read the full note of the defence of the former president.
Bolsonaro said on Monday he hopes the Supreme Court reverses the ruling, and that the judge who annulled Lula’s convictions always had a strong link to Lula’s PT party.
The Brazilian president has faced widespread criticism in recent weeks for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he remains very popular.
Brazil has seen a recent surge in coronavirus-related deaths, as Bolsonaro continues to eschew public health restrictions. More than 265,000 people have died due to the virus in the country, while more than 11 million COVID-19 cases have been reported.
Lula governed Latin America’s most populous country and largest economy between 2003 and 2011.
He was convicted in 2017 of corruption and money laundering in the country’s biggest corruption investigation, known as “Operation Car Wash”. The former president was jailed a year later, which blocked him from running in the elections that year.
He was then released from prison in late 2019, but could not run for office due to his criminal record.
The charismatic former union leader is a polarising figure but still popular with many of the country’s poor, who credit him for bringing millions out of poverty.
Lula has maintained his innocence and said the case against him was politically motivated.
Jean Paul Prates, a Brazilian senator from Lula’s PT party, told Al Jazeera the party welcomed the court’s decision.
“We are very happy that justice was belated, but was done,” he said on Monday.
Lula is the only one of 10 potential 2022 candidates who outperformed Bolsonaro in a survey by polling company Ipec, published in the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo last week.
It found that 50 percent of the 2,002 people it interviewed “would certainly” or “could” vote for Lula, compared with 38 percent for Bolsonaro. Some 44 percent of respondents said they would never vote for Lula, while 56 percent would never vote for Bolsonaro, the poll found.