In Brazil, a Plot to Bring Down Lula?

In Brazil, a scandal broke out in which an enormous trove of secret documents were published by investigative journalism site, The Intercept. The documents exposed a plot by public prosecutors against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is currently imprisoned after being convicted of financial crimes. The journalistic investigation was meant to shake the country now led by Jair Bolsonaro. It reveals numerous examples of violations by prosecutors and, in particular, by those who led the Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) that started in 2014 and which sought to uncover a system of bribes within the state-owned oil company, Petrobras.

The investigation conducted by judge Sérgio Moro, who is now Brazil’s justice minister under Bolsonaro, was, according to the findings of The Intercept, strongly politicized and biased. The goal of the prosecutors was to ensure that Lula ended up in jail, and thus, could not run for the 2018 presidential election. “This is the beginning of what we intend to reveal about the unethical behaviour of Moro and the magistrates,” tweeted Glen Greenwald, co-founder of the Intercept. “A careful reading of the materials reveals that there is nothing sensational,” Moro replied on Twitter.

But doubts about the current justice minister’s conduct remain. “We are facing the biggest scandal in the history”of Brazil, Fernando Haddad, Lula’s replacement in the 2018 election wrote on Twitter. “The journalistic investigations were based on enormous archives of previously undisclosed materials, including private chats, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings and other documentation, provided by an anonymous source. They reveal serious offenses, unethical behaviour and systematic deceit that the public, both in Brazil and internationally, has the right to know about,” the journalists emphasized.

The prosecutors’ “plot” against former president Lula

Glenn Greenwald and Victor Pougy explain that a glaring example of the far-from- unbiased conduct of Moro and the task force occurred 10 days before the Brazilian presidential elections. The Supreme Court accepted a request from the largest newspaper in the country, Folha de São Paulo, to interview former President Lula in prison on corruption charges. Immediately after hearing the news, the team of prosecutors who handled Lula’s case began to discuss in a private chat on Telegram how to “block, subvert, or undermine the Supreme Court’s decision.” The task force’s fear, expressed in the chats, was that the interview would have helped Lula’s Workers’ Party, or PT, win the election. Going off their confessed desire to prevent the PT from returning to power, the magistrates spent hours discussing strategies that could prevent or weaken the political impact of the interview with the former president.

One of the prosecutors, Laura Tessler, explained to her colleagues the urgent need to
undermine the Supreme Court’s decision. “The magistrates,” writes The Intercept, “expressed their concern about the interview and how it could have helped PT candidate Haddad. Based explicitly on that fear, the prosecutors spent the day working tirelessly to develop strategies to overturn the ruling, delay the interview with Lula until after the elections or at least ensure that it was structured in a way that minimized political impact and his ability to help the party.”

“Preventing the Workers’ Party from returning to power”

While the prosecutors were discussing how to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the interview with Lula, Deltan Dallagnol, the chief of the prosecutor task force, spoke with a close confidant, another public prosecutor, who was, however, not involved in the investigation. Both expressly agreed that their main objective was to prevent the return of the PT to power, and the chief prosecutor agreed to “pray” for it not to happen.

The prosecutors of the task force then rejoiced when they learned that the Novo Party (New Party) had challenged the decision to grant the interview with Lula and that authorization had thus been withheld by the court. They celebrated the news by, among other things, making fun of the conflicts that might emerge for the Supreme Court and praising the party that was trying to stop the interview. One prosecutor, Januário Paludo, wrote in the chat that “we should thank our Prosecutors’ Office: the Novo Party!”

As The Intercept points out, the Car Wash task force has not denied the authenticity of the information published. In a press release published Sunday evening, the prosecutors wrote that, “possibly among the illegally copied information are documents and data on ongoing strategies and investigations and on the personal and security routines of task force members and their families. There is peace of mind that any data obtained reflects activities developed with full respect for legality and in a technical and impartial manner, over more than five years of the operation.”

And it seems it is not even close to ending here. When asked about the size of the files obtained from their secret source, Leandro Demori, executive editor of The Intercept Brasil, explained that he has no way of estimating it. “I would say we have looked at 1% of the material. We can’t quantify it. It’s a lot.” According to the editor, the material is “overwhelming, extensive, it contains conversations, videos, audios, files, documents, photos, prints, everything we usually do in a messaging application. We’re not publicizing the size of the file, but it’s bigger in size than the Snowden file.”

The investigation into the role of Justice Minister Sérgio Moro

The second, explosive investigation by The Intercept focuses on the conduct of Sérgio Moro, former federal judge of the Federal Court of Curitiba and current Justice Minister. “In the files,” writes The Intercept, “conversations between lead prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol and then-presiding Judge Sergio Moro reveal that Moro offered strategic advice to prosecutors and passed on tips for new avenues of investigation. With these actions, Moro grossly overstepped the ethical lines that define the role of a judge. In Brazil, as in the United States, judges are required to be impartial and neutral, and are barred from secretly collaborating with one side in a case.”

Other chats raise fundamental questions about the validity of the charges that eventually imprisoned Lula. The former president was accused of having received a triplex apartment on the beach from the construction company Grupo Oas as a “bribe” for facilitating multi million-dollar contracts with the state-owned oil company Petrobras. A few days before presenting the indictment, Dallagnol shared in the group chats of members of the public prosecutor’s office his growing doubts about two key elements of the prosecution case: whether the Triplex actually belonged to Lula and whether it had anything to do with Petrobras.