SAO PAULO – A judge on Wednesday ordered former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva moved from a lockup in the south of the country to a penitentiary for common criminals in Sao Paulo state, but Brazil’s top court quickly blocked the transfer.
The 10-1 ruling by the Supreme Court came after lawyers for Da Silva appealed an order by state judge Paulo Sorci that the former president should be shifted from an isolated single room in federal police facilities in the city of Curitiba to the Tremembe prison, 95 miles (155 kilometers) northeast of Sao Paulo.
No date had been set for the transfer and there had been no indication of what kind of cell the 73-year-old da Silva would be put in.
A previous ruling by another judge, Carolina Lebbos, had authorized the move at the request of Brazil’s federal police, who said da Silva’s supporters have been troubling neighbors of the jail in Curitiba. Hundreds have gathered outside the station since last year when Da Silva started serving his 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering. Lebbos hadn’t specified which prison Da Silva should be sent to.
Almost 100 left-leaning and centrist lawmakers had pressured Supreme Court Chief Justice José Dias Toffoli to rule on the ordered transfer rapidly, and he had promised a decision later in the day.
The only dissenting vote in the Supreme Court’s ruling, by Justice Marco Aurélio Mello, said the decision should be made by another federal court.
The Tremembe penitentiary is known for holding high-profile prisoners. Sao Paulo state’s prison authority says it has a capacity of 408 inmates.
Da Silva’s Workers’ Party said in a statement that the ordered transfer was “yet another illegality and gesture of persecution against Lula, for it arbitrarily denies him the prerogative of a former president and former commander in chief of the armed forces.”
He denies any wrongdoing and is awaiting a ruling by the country’s top court this month on allegations of bias by the judge who sentenced him, Sérgio Moro, who is now Brazil’s justice minister. A court ruling in Da Silva’s favor could free the former leader.
Da Silva’s attorneys asked Brazil’s top court to either release him while until it decides whether Moro was biased against him or suspend the transfer to the Tremembe penitentiary. The Supreme Court justices picked the second alternative in a session that lasted only 20 minutes.
The transfer would have come at a time that the case that led to Da Silva’s conviction is under attack.
The news website The Intercept Brasil recently published leaked phone conversations that it said showed then judge Moro helped prosecutors in their case against Da Silva, who governed in 2003-2010.
Moro has said he can’t confirm the messages were his because he has deleted the app, but said they do not show bias in any case.
Some adversaries of the former president also criticized the decision to transfer him.
Chamber of Deputies Speaker Rodrigo Maia said he agreed with a colleague who called the order “persecution for no reason.”
But Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, who supported President Jair Bolsonaro in his winning campaign last year, had celebrated the decision, saying on Twitter that da Silva “will be treated like all other prisoners.”
The order to move da Silva came nearly two months before Brazilian law would somewhat relax his prison sentence. Inmates who are considered less dangerous can work outside during the day after serving one-sixth of their prison time.