Judges to decide whether last year's corruption and money-laundering conviction should stand against the left-leaning politician who is leading in polls for the October presidential election.

Lula was sentenced in July 2017 to nine and a half years behind bars after being convicted of corruption in Brazil's huge
Lula was sentenced in July 2017 to nine and a half years behind bars after being convicted of corruption in Brazil's huge "car wash" graft scandal. January 23, 2018. (Reuters)

An appeals court will decide on Wednesday whether to uphold the corruption conviction of Brazil's most influential politician former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a decision that would likely bar him from running in the presidential race this year.

Tens of thousands of supporters rallied in the streets of Porto Alegre on Tuesday to protest against what they see as the political persecution of the leftist icon, who was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for accepting a bribe.

Lula, 72, who oversaw a commodities boom a decade ago as Brazil's first working-class president, would be declared ineligible for the October 7 ballot if his appeal is denied as expected. He can still appeal to higher courts to delay a final decision and avoid going to jail.

TRT World's Anelise Borges reports. 

High support

His exclusion from the election would radically alter the political landscape ahead of a campaign in which Lula is the early favourite, with 36 percent of voter preferences according to pollster Datafolha. That is double the percentage of his nearest rival, the far-right congressman and former army captain Jair Bolsonaro, who has been energised by anti-Lula sentiment.

Lula accused his enemies of trying to oust him from the political arena as they had by impeaching his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff in 2016, ending 13 years of Workers Party rule.

"I know I committed no crime," he told supporters at a rally in downtown Porto Alegre on Tuesday evening. "They fear a Lula comeback in 2018. They fear the good things we achieved."

Preparing for trouble, the city deployed several thousand police and mounted a four-block security perimeter around the appeals court to prevent any disruption of Wednesday's session.

Money-laundering conviction

Lula was convicted of corruption and money laundering last year for accepting a beachside apartment from an engineering firm vying for contracts with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Prosecutors said the apartment and its refurbishing was a bribe worth $1.1 million (3.7 million reais). Lula maintains he never owned the penthouse apartment, criticising prosecutors for leaning on the plea-bargain testimony of one witness.

The case has polarised Brazil, with Lula's critics calling for him to be put behind bars and his Workers Party allies calling on supporters to resist any attempt to arrest him.

Lula left office in 2010 with an unprecedented 87 percent approval rating, boosted by social programmes that lifted millions of Brazilians from poverty. His reputation has been tarnished by corruption scandals, but most political analysts agree he would still make it to a second-round run-off if allowed in the race.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies