In an 8-3 ruling, the court upheld Justice Edson Fachin’s March 8 decision quashing Lula’s convictions on procedural grounds, which has upended Brazilian politics as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro gears up to seek reelection in October 2022.
“Thank you to the Brazilian people! #LulaInnocent,” the leftist leader’s Workers’ Party wrote on Twitter.
The ruling, which was made on procedural grounds, does not find Lula innocent. But it essentially puts prosecutors back to square one by sending the cases to another court.
Lula, the popular but tarnished leftist who led Brazil through an economic boom from 2003 to 2010, was jailed in 2018 on charges of taking bribes from companies seeking juicy contracts at state oil giant Petrobras.
The cases felled him just as he was gearing up to seek a new presidential term, in elections Bolsonaro ultimately won.
Lula maintains he is innocent and that the case against him was a conspiracy to sideline him politically.
“A historic day. It took a long time, but it arrived,” tweeted the president of Lula’s party, Gleisi Hoffmann.
“Thank you to everyone who stood by us during this struggle.”
Judge accused of bias
The charges against Lula grew out of “Operation Car Wash,” an investigation that blew the lid off a massive corruption scheme in which top politicians and business executives systematically siphoned billions of dollars from Petrobras.
Fachin ruled the court in the southern state of Parana that handled the Car Wash cases did not have jurisdiction for Lula’s charges because they were not directly related to the Petrobras scheme.
He ordered the four cases—two convictions and two pending judgments—transferred to another court in Brasilia.
Prosecutors had asked the Supreme Court to at a minimum reinstate the two convictions, arguing they were legally sound and that Lula was “named as the ringleader” of the Petrobras scheme—an accusation they have struggled to pin on him in court.
Lula spent 18 months in jail before being freed in 2019 pending appeal.
The full Supreme Court is also due to rule on prosecutors’ appeal of a decision that found the lead Car Wash judge, Sergio Moro, was biased in convicting Lula.
They set deliberations on that case for next Thursday.
Moro controversially accepted the post of justice minister in Bolsonaro’s government when the latter won the 2018 election.
That fueled accusations he colluded to sideline Lula and get Bolsonaro elected.
Moro later had a falling-out with Bolsonaro, accusing the president of interfering in federal police investigations. He resigned in April 2020.