Brazil ‘Car Wash’ corruption probe facing ‘worst moment’ as establishment fights back
06 Sep 2019

Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption investigation, which jailed dozens including a former president, has been threatened over the past week by a Supreme Court ruling and push back from politicians seeking to curb investigative powers.

For the first time, justices of the top court have annulled a corruption conviction by the judge who oversaw the probe, current Justice Minister Sergio Moro, setting a precedent that prosecutors fear could undo up to 143 other convictions.

Investigators in the probe known as Operation Car Wash are already on the defensive, after leaked messages appeared to show Moro collaborating with prosecutors on their case against jailed former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula’s lawyers and supporters are demanding a retrial, while Moro has denied any wrongdoing.

“There’s no doubt this is Car Wash’s worst moment,” said former lead prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima, now retired, in an interview with Reuters this week.

“The operation is strong enough to resist because we still have the support of a majority of Brazilians, but we are being besieged from all sides of the political system,” he added.

After five years of convictions and confessions, plus billions of dollars in recovered bribes, there is no doubt that the probe has made a lasting impact. Its findings spurred a wave of other investigations around Brazil and Latin America, taking down presidents and rattling global firms in sectors from oil trading to medical equipment.

But the Car Wash team itself, which for years had Brasilia holding its breath as it brought down a string of business leaders and power brokers, has lost its aura of invincibility.

In a landmark decision last week, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Aldemir Bendine, a former president of state-run oil company Petrobras. A majority of justices found he should have had a chance to make a closing argument after hearing accusations against him from plea-bargain testimony.

Others convicted in the Car Wash probe have begun to file appeals before the Supreme Court with the same argument.

Lula’s lawyer Cristiano Zanin Martins said the court ruling and Moro’s exchanges with prosecutors leaked by The Intercept news site have given the Supreme Court the opportunity to remedy what he called a “scenario of abuses” committed by the Car Wash team against the former president.

“The messages made public by The Intercept and other media outlets show that Sergio Moro instructed and guided all the prosecutors,” Martins told Reuters.

Moro declined to comment for this story. He and lead Car Wash prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol have said they see nothing inappropriate in the published messages.

Moro has come under criticism for joining the cabinet of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected last October after the bribery conviction barred Lula – still one of Brazil’s most popular politicians – from running in the election.

By Ricardo Brito, Reuters, 4 September 2019

Read more at Reuters

Photo: Ricαrdo from Fortaleza/CE, Brasil [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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