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Leaked Documents Show Prosecution of Brazil’s Former President Could Be Compromised

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Presidente do Brasil
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Presidente do Brasil. 2003. (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert/Presidência da República)

“This reporting confirms what we knew all along — that Moro was a bad actor and part of a larger conspiracy to send Lula to jail.”

Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro is facing calls to resign after an archive of leaked internal messages that cast doubt on the integrity of a corruption investigation involving the politician was published by the Intercept on Sunday. According to the Intercept’s report, Moro colluded with prosecutors when serving as judge in a case that convicted and imprisoned former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The messages show that prosecutors in the broad-ranging corruption probe, called “Operation Car Wash,”  traded messages with the supposedly impartial Judge Moro. Prosecutors expressed concern about the quality of evidence against da Silva, and sought to block a journalist from interviewing him out of fear it would help the former president’s Worker’s Party in Brazil’s 2018 presidential election.

Lula Favored Presidential Candidate Before Corruption Charges

Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Before Moro convicted the former president on corruption charges, Lula was leading the polls as the favored presidential candidate. Lula’s imprisonment allowed Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who has praised Brazil’s former military dictatorship, to gain the lead and win the presidency. Bolsonaro proceeded to appoint Moro as justice minister and promised him a position on the Supreme Court.

In a statement released on Monday, Moro declared innocence and criticized The Intercept for not naming their source, “the person responsible for the criminal invasion of the prosecutors’ cell phones.”

“Regarding the content of the messages citing me, there is no sign of any abnormality or directing of actions as a magistrate, despite them being taken out of context,” the statement continued.

It is unclear how much of an impact the Intercept’s bombshell report will have. Moro is seen as a crusading, anti-corruption hero by much of the Brazilian population, but the country’s Bar Association has called for him to step down “so that the investigation can run without any suspicions.”

Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello told the New York Times, “This situation is terrible for the judiciary and terrible for his reputation,” and other Supreme Court justices told Folha de São Paulo the chances of Moro now joining the highest court are “close to zero.”

Moro Commended for ‘Running the Greatest Anti-Corruption Investigation in the World’

Operation Car Wash, which Vox described as, “The biggest corruption scandal in Latin America’s history—And possibly the whole world,” revealed a massive scale of corruption between Lula’s left-wing Worker’s Party and the state-owned oil and gas company Petrobras, paving the way for the impeachment of Lula’s handpicked successor, former President Dilma Rousseff. After 13 years in power, many Brazilians felt the Worker’s Party had led their country into recession, and Moro represented a symbol of justice and retribution against the entrenched political class.

“Despite being detested by the left … Moro went down in history and became internationally known for running the greatest anti-corruption investigation in the world. He has immense popular support,” Eliane Cantanhêde, a political columnist for the Estado de São Paulo, told the Guardian.

But despite Moro’s position, the Intercept promised it still has a massive trove of documents to disclose, and Cantanhêde said officials are concerned the website might have “a bomb” up its sleeve. Bolsonaro has been notably quiet, as “nobody wants to defend Moro only for more things to come out.”

“It’s not every day that a reading of the facts dismissed as conspiracy theory by so many sensible establishment voices is ratified by extensive documentation,” wrote the New Republic’s Andre Pagliarini.

Countries including Peru, Argentina and Colombia are implicated in operation Car Wash’s sweeping investigation, and the revelation of improper prosecutorial motivations could have ripple effects across Latin America.

Moro Blamed for Impartiality and Coordinating With Lula’s Prosecutors

While Lula is the most popular politician in Brazilian history, having left office with an over 80 percent approval rating, Lula’s critics are concerned the Intercept’s disclosures will clear him and other politicians that may have genuinely performed corrupt actions.

“People in the anti-corruption community around Latin America were furious with Sérgio Moro when he accepted this job last year [because of the appearance of political impropriety] and they are 10 times as angry now … because it affects their work,” Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of America’s Quarterly, told the Guardian. “It allows the corrupt to say: ‘I am being unfairly targeted too.’”

Senator Bernie Sanders has called for Lula to be released in recognition of a “politicized prosecution that denied him a fair trial and due process,” and Rep. Ro Khanna has called for the Trump administration to investigate the case that imprisoned the former leader.

“This reporting confirms what we knew all along — that Moro was a bad actor and part of a larger conspiracy to send Lula to jail,” Khanna told The Intercept in an emailed statement. “While [it’s] not for America to make a factual judgement [sic] on Lula’s innocence, this reporting shows Moro was not impartial and coordinated with the prosecutors. This violates all judicial norms and ethics. I hope the Trump administration supports a full investigation into this matter given Lula is still in jail and Moro is Bolsonaro’s justice minister.”

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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