Jailed Brazil ex-leader Lula released for grandson's funeral


Sao Paulo (AFP)

Brazil's jailed ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived Saturday in Sao Paulo under police escort after receiving permission to attend the funeral of a grandson who died aged seven.

Early in the day the popular longtime leader of Brazil's stepped out of his cell in Curitiba -- where he is serving two concurrent 12-year sentences for corruption -- before flying in a small plane to Sao Paulo, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) to the northeast.

A federal court ruled late Friday that the 73-year-old Lula could be released for a few hours to travel to the funeral service of young Arthur Araujo Lula da Silva, who had meningitis.

The service was being held at the Sao Bernardo do Campo cemetery in a Sao Paulo suburb, starting at noon (1500 GMT). Arthur's father Sandro is one of Lula's five sons.

Under tight security, the service was being attended by several friends and allies of the former president, including his successor Dilma Rousseff, along with many supporters wearing the red color of Lula's Workers' Party.

- 'A high-profile thug' -

Arthur, who had twice visited his grandfather in his cell in Curitiba, died Friday in a Sao Paulo hospital.

Gleisi Hoffmann, the leader of the Workers' Party, visited Lula in prison after he learned of Arthur's death and said the aging leftist was "downcast."

"He cried several times and we tried to console him," she said.

While news of Arthur's death provoked sympathetic messages in social media -- including from a former political foe of Lula's, the head of the National Assembly Rodrigo Maia -- a son of President Jair Bolsonaro sparked a new controversy by criticizing Lula's release.

"Lula is a common-law prisoner," Eduardo Bolsonaro, a deputy in his father's Social Liberal Party, said on Twitter. "When a relative of another prisoner dies, is he escorted by the federal police to go to the services?"

He called the temporary release "absurd," adding, "It only allows a high-profile thug to pass himself off as a victim."

That remark prompted an angry social media backlash, which prompted a more conciliatory tweet from the younger Bolsonaro. Politics aside, he said, the death of a child is "dreadful."

His father, the president, has made no comment on the matter. During his electoral campaign in 2018 he said he hoped Lula would "rot in prison."

Lula has consistently denied the corruption charges for which he was jailed, saying he was the victim of political machinations.