Brazil judge orders release of Lula after Supreme Court ruling

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Supporters of Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gesture outside the Federal Police headquarters where Lula is serving a prison sentence, in Curitiba, Brazil November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer

BRASILIA/CURITIBA, Brazil (Reuters) – A Brazilian judge ordered the release of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from prison on Friday, startling financial markets and spurring both supporters and critics of the leftist icon to call for demonstrations in coming days.

The federal judge’s order followed a Supreme Court ruling late on Thursday ending the mandatory imprisonment of convicted criminals after they lose their first appeal.

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The politically charged ruling is expected to free scores of high-profile convicts in the so-called “Car Wash” investigation of public corruption, including Lula, as the former president is known, who was behind bars for a bribery conviction.

Brazil’s currency and benchmark Bovespa stock index fell nearly 2 percent on Friday, deepening losses in late afternoon trading after the judge’s ruling to release the former president.

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Lula was imprisoned in 2018 for eight years and 10 months after being found guilty of taking bribes from engineering firms in return for public contracts. He has maintained his innocence and said the case against him was politically motivated.

While Lula has fought to overturn the sentence, many urged the Supreme Court to overturn a prior ruling that convicts, including the former president, must do prison time before exhausting their appeals. On Thursday, the top court voted 6-5 that the precedent was in fact unconstitutional.

Following the Supreme Court decision, Lula’s lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, was quick to request his release from a cell in federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba.

Lula and his supporters have also criticized the fact that Sergio Moro, a former federal judge who oversaw the Car Wash probe and convicted Lula, accepted an invitation to become the justice minister of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime foe of Lula and key rival in last year’s election.

Moro said in a statement earlier on Friday that the top court’s decision must be respected, and lawmakers can now change the constitution to make prison time mandatory after a first failed appeal.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito in Brasilia and Leonardo Benassatto in Curitiba; Additonal reporting by Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Editing by Brad Haynes and Jonathan Oatis

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