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Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, once the most popular president in Brazil’s recent history, has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison after being found guilty on corruption and money-laundering charges.

Although Lula, as he is universally known, will remain free pending an appeal – and his supporters denounced the sentence as political persecution – the ruling marks an extraordinary fall for a leader Barack Obama once called “the most popular politician on earth”.

Passing sentence on the former president, Judge Sergio Moro said Lula took part in the corruption scheme, in which billions of dollars were paid to middlemen, executives and politicians for fat contracts.

Lula still faces four more trials, in a process defence lawyers say constitutes a judicial blitzkrieg designed to prevent him returning to politics.

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