The former president, wearing a black T-shirt and suit jacket, pumped his fist in the air as he exited the federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba and was quickly mobbed by hundreds of supporters and journalists.
In an impassioned address, Lula vowed to “continue fighting” for ordinary Brazilians and expose the “lying side of the federal police.” His croaky voice was at times drowned out by the cheers of the crowd and by fireworks.
“I didn’t think that today I could be here talking to men and women that during 580 days shouted good morning, good afternoon or goodnight, no matter if it was raining or 40 degrees (Celsius),” he said, flanked by his girlfriend Rosangela da Silva, whom he kissed on stage.
“Now I’m going to Sao Paulo and afterward the doors of Brazil will be open so that I can travel around this country.”
Lula’s highly anticipated exit from the facility where he had been held since April 2018 came hours after his lawyers requested the immediate release of the 74-year-old, who has been serving a nearly nine-year sentence for corruption and money laundering.
Late Thursday, the Supreme Court overturned a rule requiring convicted criminals to go to jail after losing their first appeal.
Lula is one of several thousand convicts who could benefit from the decision. Those convicts would remain free until they had exhausted their rights to appeal — a process critics say could take years in cases involving people able to afford expensive lawyers. Many of those affected by the 6-5 ruling are political and business leaders caught up in a massive corruption probe dubbed Car Wash that began in 2014.
Lula was “very serene” and the Supreme Court ruling had given him “hope that there could be justice,” his lawyer Cristiano Zanin said earlier.
“Our judicial battle continues, our focus is to get the legal case nullified.” Lula, who led Brazil through a historic boom from 2003 to 2010, earning him the gratitude of millions of Brazilians for redistributing wealth to haul them out of poverty, was serving eight years and 10 months for corruption.
He was sentenced to almost 13 years in jail in February in a separate corruption case and still faces another half dozen corruption trials.
Lula has denied all the charges, arguing they were politically motivated to keep him out of the 2018 presidential election that was won by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.