SÃO BERNARDO DO CAMPO, BRAZIL: Brazil’s election frontrunner and controversial leftist icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was negotiating the terms of his arrest for corruption on Saturday while remaining holed up with crowds of fervent supporters near Sao Paulo.
Lula, a two-time former president who is hated and loved in Brazil by equal measure, had been told to surrender on Friday to start serving a 12 year prison term.
But the 72-year-old defiantly let the deadline pass, taking refuge in the metalworkers’ union building in his hometown of Sao Bernardo do Campo, surrounded by several thousand supporters.
This raised the temperature in the standoff between Lula and Judge Sergio Moro, who heads Brazil’s mammoth “Car Wash” anti-graft probe and who ordered the arrest.
Nevertheless, both sides backed away from outright confrontation, given that taking Lula by force would certainly provoke violent resistance from his backers.
Authorities took pains to reduce tensions, stressing that Lula was not considered a fugitive—something that would trigger a preventative arrest warrant.
“Lula did not comply with a judicial order,” a spokesman for Moro told Agence France-Presse, “but everyone knows where he is. He’s not hiding or on the run.”
Politicians from Lula’s Workers’ Party said his lawyers were negotiating.
“There is a discussion between police and the ex-president’s lawyers and the party is following this. The idea is to avoid the judge ordering preventative arrest, which would aggravate the situation,” said Congressman Carlos Zarattini.
“Nothing is over yet.”
A Catholic Mass was due to take place at the union building early Saturday in memory of Lula’s late wife Marisa Leticia, who died last year and would now be turning 68, Workers’ Party officials said.
According to varying Brazilian media reports, Lula was considering surrendering after the Mass or possibly trying to hold out through the weekend.
Meanwhile, Lula’s lawyers appealed for an injunction against his arrest late Friday in the Supreme Court. A similar appeal at another court failed earlier in the day.