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When he was president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was among the most popular elected leaders the world had ever seen. He left office in 2010 with approval ratings over 80 percent. Yesterday, Lula, as he's known, was convicted of corruption and handed a prison sentence. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Not long ago, Lula appeared at a big political rally in Brazil's capital. It was a gathering of the party he co-founded, the leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers' Party. The charismatic former president was given a huge welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Portugese).
REEVES: Lula seemed eager to return to the highest office again.
LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA: (Speaking in Portugese).
REEVES: "I don't want you to worry about my personal problem," Lula told the crowd, referring to corruption charges leveled against him. That personal problem has now turned into a conviction and a prison sentence of nine and a half years. Lula has been convicted as part of Brazil's so-called Car Wash investigation into a vast corruption scandal that's engulfed many top politicians and executives. He's accused of receiving kickbacks from a construction company. Lula's defense team maintains the convictions an attempt to stop the 71-year-old running in next year's election. He's considered the front-runner.
Lula is still revered by many here, not least for lifting millions from poverty during Brazil's boom years. The judge, Sergio Moro, said convicting a former president is such a serious matter that Lula should remain free until his appeal is heard. That could take months. It doesn't matter how high you are, the law is still above you, wrote Moro in his ruling. Those words will likely resonate with many in power here, including the current president, Michel Temer. Temer's fighting for his political survival after he too was charged with corruption.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.
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