A Brazilian appeals court unanimously upheld the corruption conviction of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday and added to his sentence, a major blow to the popular politician's plans to run again for the presidency this year.
All three appellate court judges voted to uphold Lula's convictions on taking bribes and money laundering. They also added 2-1/2 years to his sentence, condemning him to 12 years in prison. Lula, Brazil's first working-class leader, so far remains free pending future appeals.
Lula, 72, could now be ineligible to stand for election under Brazil's "Ficha Limpa" or "Clean Record" law, which bans political candidates whose convictions have been upheld by an appellate court.
Lula's exclusion from the October election would radically alter the political landscape ahead of a campaign in which he is the early favorite, with 36% 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 energized by anti-Lula sentiment.
But Lula still has options. An electoral court must make the final ruling on a candidacy, and would only do so once a candidate had registered.
Lula can appeal Wednesday's decision by the appeals court in Porto Alegre to Brazil's top appeals court or to the Supreme Court to delay a final ruling, possibly avoiding jail and stringing the process out long enough to register his candidacy by the August 15 deadline.
At a night-time rally in a central Sao Paulo plaza, Lula stood atop a sound truck and rallied supporters, blasting the ruling as a "lie", and strongly maintained his innocence.
Lula said that if the three judges could "show me the crime I committed, I would give up trying to be a candidate."
"I want the judges to know that I am not worried like they think I should be," Lula said. "They cannot jail ideas or hope."
Opponents of Lula, meanwhile, celebrated on Sao Paulo's main avenue with a giant blown-up figure of the ex-president dressed as a prison convict.