Brazil’s Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended the transfer of jailed leftist icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to a regular prison in Sao Paulo, hours after a judge gave the green light for his move.
The ex-president has been incarcerated at the federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba since April 2018, after he was sentenced to eight years and 10 months for accepting a bribe.
Earlier Wednesday, a federal judge ordered Lula’s transfer to prison after police complained about the hassles and expense of looking after the high-profile inmate in a facility not designed for long-term prisoners.
Lula was to be moved to the Doctor Jose Augusto Cesar Salgado Penitentiary II in Tremembe, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) from Sao Paulo city.
But the Supreme Court voted to suspend the move until after it rules on whether Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who was Lula’s convicting judge in 2017, had been biased.
That decision could lead to a review of Lula’s case.
Moro, the powerful judge behind the so-called Car Wash corruption probe before he was appointed to President Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet, has been accused of conspiring with prosecutors to keep Lula out of the 2018 election race that he was favoured to win.
Scores of high-profile politicians and business leaders have been caught up in the years-long investigation.
Lula’s lawyers had sought to delay the transfer, arguing he should be freed rather than placed in a situation of “greater legal and personal vulnerability” in a normal prison.
They also insisted that he have an individual room “compatible” to his status as a former president.
The defence’s argument “makes sense,” said Michael Mohallem, an expert on constitutional law at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank.
“It is always worse to go to a common prison,” Mohallem said, though he noted that this particular jail did not suffer from serious overcrowding.
Lula was sentenced to almost 13 years in jail in February in a separate corruption case and still faces another half dozen corruption trials.
He has denied all the charges.