By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After several days of widespread rumors, Brazil’s Central Bank stated last week that bills stamped with the image of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the words “Free Lula” were not illegal and would not lose their value. Thousands of bills have been stamped with Lula’s portrait by sympathizers since the former President was arrested in April.
“Banknotes with scribbles, symbols or any strange marks remain valuable and can be exchanged or deposited in the banking network. The uncharacterized banknotes presented in the bank network will be collected from the Central Bank for destruction,” said the statement issued on May 3rd.
Days after the stamped bills started to circulate, Brazilians started receiving fake messages on their social media messages stating that the Central Bank had prohibited banks and establishments from receiving such bills and that police would be called if a customer tried to use the currency.
“The banks will call the police and the bearer will be subject to Article 163 of the Criminal Code,” said one of these fake messages.
But while the Bank said the currency was still valid, it noted that retailers are not required to accept the banknotes. Banks, on the other hand, are required to accept the currency and exchange it with the Central Bank for new bills.
Some shop owners, believing in the fake messages are declining to accept the bills, while others welcome them.
Omar Monteiro, owner of the Bar do Omar located in the center of Rio de Janeiro city, not only welcomes the bills but encourages people to pay their beer and food with the stamped Free Lula notes at his bar, giving them a discount on the bill.
“Yes, it’s true. Paying with notes stamped with Lula’s Face receives ten percent off the bill,” says Monteiro, a supporter of the former leader, on the bar’s social media page.
Former President Lula started to serve a twelve-year jail sentence in the beginning of April, accused of passive corruption.