Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva walked out of jail and into Brazil’s political spotlight after a high-profile court decision reversed rules for imprisoning convicts.

TV footage showed the leftist leader leaving jail in the southern city of Curitiba where he’s been serving a sentence for corruption since 2018. He was addressing a crowd of supporters who gathered in front of the building, waving flags and singing as police stood watch.

The ex-president’s defense lawyers had requested his release after the Supreme Court ruled late Thursday that convicted criminals should be incarcerated only after all their appeals are exhausted.

The move thrusts the charismatic and highly-influential 74 year-old politician back into the spotlight at a highly polarized time in Brazilian politics. Domestic law still prevents Lula from running for public office due to his conviction, but his presence may galvanize the left in their opposition to rival President Jair Bolsonaro and the market-friendly policies his administration is pursuing.

Brazilian markets fell on the news, with stocks hitting an intraday low and the currency deepening losses.

“Lula is going to hit the streets day one with a vengeance and it’s certainly going to be more than noise,” said James Gulbrandsen, chief investment officer for Latin America at NCH Capital.

Corruption Sentence

Lula was convicted of corruption in 2017 and lost two appeals since then, but he has not exhausted the entire process. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has said he’s victim of political persecution.

There are several other ongoing cases against the former president, who was in office from 2003 to 2010 and a key figure in the government of Dilma Rousseff, his handpicked successor, for another two terms. Lula was expected to run for president again in 2018 before being imprisoned, and was still featured heavily in ads for the campaign of the candidate of his Workers’ Party, Fernando Haddad, who lost to Bolsonaro.

Court Decision

Thursday evening’s 6-5 decision by Brazils Supreme Court reversed the recent practice of jailing criminals whose convictions were upheld on first appeal – which was instrumental in the success of the Carwash anti-corruption probe.

Dozens of Senators and deputies, as well as members of Bolsonaro’s own family and several advocacy groups had pressured judges to keep the status quo. The leader of Bolsonaro’s party in the Senate, Major Olimpio, said the decision was cause of “shame” and that the top court’s justices “voted in favor of criminals and against the Brazilian people.”

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