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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- The former president who brought Brazil to prominence on the world stage has been found guilty of corruption and money laundering - a historic judgment underscoring that no one is out of reach of this Latin American country's sprawling graft investigation.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's conviction Wednesday was the highest profile victory yet for the probe, which has already brought charges against dozens of political and business elite and recovered more than $3 billion in ill-gotten gains.

While Judge Sergio Moro defended the decision as one based purely in the law, Silva derided the trial as a political witch hunt and is expected to rally his supporters to his cause with a news conference he called for Thursday.

Brazil's first working class president, sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison, will remain free while an appeal is heard, but he is now the country's first former president to be convicted in a criminal proceeding at least since democracy was restored in the 1980s.

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