Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says he would turn himself in to police, in his first comments after the arrest warrant. He has been given 12-year prison sentence for accepting a luxury apartment as a kickback.

Brazil's Lula says that top anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro,
Brazil's Lula says that top anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro, "lied" about him being given a luxury apartment as a bribe. (AFP)

Brazil's former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Saturday he had been falsely accused of corruption but was ready to surrender for arrest.

In his first comments since being ordered to start a 12-year prison sentence for accepting a luxury apartment as a bribe, Lula told cheering supporters that he was "an outraged citizen."

Lula told the crowd that Brazil's top anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro, "lied" about him being given the apartment by a big construction firm as a kickback.

"I am the only human being to be put on trial for an apartment which does not belong to me," he said during a Saturday morning mass for his late wife to be held at the metallurgical union in the Sao Paulo suburb of Sao Bernardo do Campo.

But Lula, 72, said: "I will comply with their warrant."

TRT World's Michael Fox has more details from Sao Paulo.

Supreme court rejects plea

In a passionate, combative, hour-long speech, Lula accused the judiciary and Brazil's most powerful media conglomerate of assisting a right-wing coup with the ultimate aim of preventing him from competing in this October's presidential elections.

Despite his legal problems, Lula is the frontrunner in polls.

Lula said he wanted to go to prison and had rejected multiple suggestions of fleeing or seeking asylum abroad.

"I want to face them and look at them in their eyes," he said of his accusers.

"You'll see that I will come out of this bigger, stronger," he said, promising to prove his innocence. 

Lula was ordered to surrender to the authorities on Friday, but missed the deadline, staying holed-up with his supporters at the metalworkers' union building in his hometown Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo.

The metallurgical union is where the former president universally known as "Lula" got his start as a union organiser long ago.

The arrest warrant came hours after Brazil's top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, voted 6-5 to deny a request by the former president to stay out of prison while he appealed a conviction that he contends was simply a way to keep him off the ballot in October's election.

Last year, Moro convicted da Silva of trading favors with a construction company in exchange for the promise of a beachfront apartment. That conviction was upheld by an appeals court in January.

The former president denies any wrongdoing in that case or in several other corruption cases that have yet to be tried.

'Most popular politician on Earth'

However it happens, the jailing of da Silva will mark a colossal fall from grace for a man who rose to power against steep odds in one of the world's most unequal countries.

Born in the hardscrabble northeast, da Silva rose through the ranks of the union in the country's industrial south.

In 1980, during the military dictatorship, da Silva was arrested in Sao Bernardo do Campo for organizing strikes. He would spend more than a month in jail.

After running for president several times, in 2002 da Silva finally won. He governed from 2003 to 2010, leaving office an international celebrity and with approval ratings in the high 80s.

Former US President Barack Obama once called da Silva the "most popular politician on Earth."

Since leaving office, things have steadily gotten worse for the leader, who has been charged in several corruption cases.

He has always maintained his innocence while continuing to campaign across the country the past year.

'Lula is one of us'

Despite his legal troubles, he leads preference polls to return to office - if by some chance he is allowed to run.

Like so much in a nation that has become deeply polarised, that da Silva would soon be behind bars was being interpreted differently by supporters and detractors.

"This has always been Lula: a crook and a radical who doesn't respect the law," said Edson Soares, a 70-year-old retiree at a shopping mall near the union building. "It will feel so much better to have him in prison."

Antonio Ferreira dos Santos, a 43-year-old bricklayer who was keeping vigil outside the union, had a different take.

"Lula is one of us. He knows what it is like to have a tough life and loves the poor more than the rich," said dos Santos.

Workers' Party leaders insist that da Silva, 72, would still be the party's candidate in October. Technically, beginning to serve his sentence would not keep da Silva off the ballot.

In August, the country's top electoral court makes final decisions about candidacies. It was expected to deny da Silva's candidacy under Brazil's "clean slate" law, which disqualifies people who have had criminal convictions upheld.

However, da Silva could appeal such a decision, though doing so from jail would be more complicated.

Da Silva is the latest of many high-profile people to be ensnared in possibly the largest corruption scandal in Latin American history.

Over the last four years, Brazilians have experienced near weekly police operations and arrests of the elite, from top politicians to businessmen like former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht.

Investigators uncovered a major scheme in which construction companies essentially formed a cartel that doled out inflated contracts from state oil company Petrobras, paying billions in kickbacks to politicians and businessmen.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies