Brazil's Lula tells AFP he's innocent, unafraid of prison

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Sao Paulo (AFP)

Brazil's former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told AFP on Thursday he is not afraid of a 12-year prison sentence for corruption, insisting on his innocence and determination to return to the presidency.

"I am working on the assumption that I will be a candidate and that I will win in the courts, proving my innocence," Lula said, though he conceded that the possibility of ending up behind bars "comes to mind every day."

Lula, 72, left office after his two term presidency between 2003 and 2010 as Brazil's most popular ever president.

Since then, the Workers' Party founder has seen his reputation nosedive as the economy went into recession and his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff was removed after impeachment for illegal accounting practices in 2016.

Now he faces imminent incarceration after being convicted of taking bribes as part of a vast network of kickbacks and embezzlement involving politicians and business executives at construction companies and state oil enterprise Petrobras.

Lula is still appealing the more than 12-year sentence and, remarkably, continues to lead the polls of potential candidates in October's presidential elections.

Defiant, Lula told AFP in Sao Paulo that he thinks he could win in a first round, describing the legal campaign against him as an attempt to "sink" his candidacy.

"If they convict and imprison me, they will be condemning an innocent man. This will have a historic price," he said. "They will have to take responsibility for what will happen in the country."

Despite that apparently veiled threat, he insisted that his supporters would not seek to undermine the election if he were barred from running.

"This country doesn't have a culture of violence in the electoral process," he said.