Defiant Lula faces key court decision in Brazil

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Brasília (AFP)

Brazil's top court is to rule on Thursday on whether former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should face jail if he loses an appeal next week or if he can pursue other legal remedies.

A court in Porto Alegre is to give its verdict on Monday on Lula's appeal against a 12-year jail sentence for money laundering and corruption.

But first, the Federal Supreme Court -- sitting in the capital Brasilia -- will rule on a point of law on Thursday as to whether losing Monday's appeal would automatically mean Lula's immediate arrest and incarceration.

The ruling by the 11 judges will weigh heavily on Brazilian politics, seven months before the presidential elections, which Lula, despite his legal travails, is favored to win.

The court is scheduled to sit at 2:00 pm (1700 GMT).

The judges could grant a "habeas corpus" petition that would allow Lula to remain at liberty for as long as he has a legal chance of avoiding jail. That could be months or even years.

However, a decision against Lula means he could go to jail as early as next week, if he loses his appeal in Porto Alegre's Regional Court No. 4.

A lower court, the Superior Court of Justice, has already ruled against Lula on the "habeas corpus" issue.

Lula was found guilty in July 2017 of receiving a luxury seaside apartment as a bribe from a Brazilian construction company in return for contracts with state oil giant Petrobras. He was sentenced to 9.5 years in jail, which, in a January appeal, was increased to 12 years and one month.

The leftist leader, a two-term president from 2003-2010, insists he is innocent of the charges and that he is the victim of a campaign to prevent him from running for the presidency in October.

- 'Nobody more honest' -

Everything points to the court rejecting Lula's plea next Monday, and Lula could be arrested within hours.

Even if he remains free, analysts believe Lula will eventually be declared ineligible for the October presidential elections. That decision ultimately rests with the electoral authorities, which will decide in August.

Undeterred, the 72-year-old has continued with a tour of southern Brazil to rally his supporters, and is scheduled to be in Foz de Iguazu -- on the border with Argentina and Paraguay -- when the court in Porto Alegre passes its judgement.

Lula again denied the charges against him late Wednesday during his campaign tour.

"None of them is more honest than me. They turned out my house, even my mattress. They opened the air extractor and they did not have the courage to apologize and say that they did not find an illegal cent in my whole life," he said.

Seven months out from the election, Lula is still running at around 35 percent in the opinion polls, though he remains a divisive figure for Brazilians fed up with political corruption.

In an interview with AFP earlier this month, the former union leader admitted that he thinks "every day" about the possibility of going to jail, but was determined to fight to the end to prove his innocence.

Candidates have until August 15 to register for October's presidential election.