RIO DE JANEIRO — A Supreme Court justice in Brazil on Monday tossed out several criminal cases against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, restoring his right to seek the presidency again, in a decision with the potential to reshape Brazil’s political future.
Mr. da Silva, a fiery leftist leader who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, had been the front-runner in the 2018 presidential contest eventually won by Jair Bolsonaro. But the Supreme Court in April of that year ruled that Mr. da Silva could not appear on the ballot as a result of a conviction in a corruption case handed down in 2017.
With his political rights restored, Mr. Silva is widely expected to run against Mr. Bolsonaro in next year’s presidential election.
The incumbent, a polarizing far-right leader who pays homage to Brazil’s military dictatorship, would face a formidable challenge in Mr. da Silva, a former political prisoner who remains revered among poor Brazilians.
Mr. da Silva, 75, and many of his supporters have long argued that the criminal cases against him were politically motivated. Mr. da Silva was convicted of accepting a seaside apartment as part of a kickback scheme involving government contracts.
The former president was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but a Supreme Court ruling in November 2019 allowed him to remain free while his appeals were pending.
The federal judge who oversaw that case, Sergio Moro, left the bench soon after Mr. Bolsonaro took office, and joined his cabinet as justice minister. The anti-corruption task force that investigated Mr. da Silva, which was based in the southern city of Curitiba, was disbanded earlier this year amid questions over ethical and procedural irregularities by its prosecutors.
On Monday, a Supreme Court justice, Edson Fachin, ruled that Mr. da Silva should never have been prosecuted in Curitiba. The decision, which covers four criminal cases, did not represent an acquittal of Mr. da Silva. The attorney general’s office said shortly after the decision was handed down that it would seek a ruling from the full court.
Justice Fachin said the former president could still face charges if prosecutors in the capital, Brasília, decide to take on some of the vacated cases. Mr. da Silva faces three other corruption cases in Brasília, which have not yet reached a verdict.
Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro. Letícia Casado contributed reporting from Brasília.