(CNN) – Brazil’s supreme court has ruled that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva must start serving a 12-year jail sentence for corruption, a move that may end his political career.
Lula da Silva, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2011, had been considered a frontrunner in elections due in October. But the court’s decision not to grant his request to remain free while appealing the conviction has cast doubt on his bid to regain power.
The 72-year-old former president had filed a habeas corpus request to delay his prison sentence, but the supreme court ruled against him 6-5, a close verdict on an issue that has divided the country and raised tensions ahead of the elections.
The decision will now go back to the lower court, where a warrant for his arrest is expected to be issued within days.
In late January, an appeals court unanimously upheld the corruption and money laundering charges against him, and he was handed a 12-year prison sentence. Lula da Silva was initially found guilty of the charges in July 2017.
Lula da Silva strongly denied any wrongdoing. His defense said he was a victim of political persecution.
His conviction stemmed from a wide-ranging corruption investigation into the state-run oil company Petrobras, dubbed “Operation Car Wash.” The accusations against him emerged after he left office in 2011.
Lula da Silva was accused of benefiting from the renovation of a triplex in a beach town near Sao Paulo by the construction company OAS. The charges were connected to 3.7 million reais’ ($1.1 million) worth of bribes received from OAS through the beachfront apartment. In return, Lula da Silva helped the builder acquire contracts from the oil company, prosecutors charged.
Universally known as Lula, Lula da Silva is a founding member of Brazil’s only socialist political party, Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Workers’ Party.
He won two terms as president, serving from October 2002 until January 2011. He was friends with the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who supported his political career, and attended Castro’s funeral last December.
He left office with a 90% approval rating but was questioned by police about the corruption allegations in March 2016.
Lula da Silva’s wife, Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva, and six others also was charged. She died in February.