Brazil’s anti-corruption ‘Car Wash’ crusaders are now mired in their own scandal

Then-Judge Sergio Moro, now Brazil's Justice Minister, during an anti-corruption hearing in 2016. Photo credit: Lula Marques/Agência
Brasília- DF 04-08-2016 Juiz Sergio Moro na comissão especial de combate a corrupção. Foto Lula Marques/Agência PT

Research and writing by Mark Bonta and Josh Wilson

It was supposed to be the mother of all corruption investigations.

Now, the Lava Jato (“Car Wash”) crusade — which swept out of Brazil’s construction and petroleum industries to encompass more than a dozen countries, hundreds of politicians and billions of dollars — is itself bogged down in scandal. 

A series of damning leaks to the website The Intercept suggest that Lava Jato was used by a partisan judge and a self-dealing prosecutor as a vehicle to advance their political careers and personal finances while selectively targeting leftist politicians.  

Worse, the real gains made in this multinational anti-corruption crusade — 244 convictions, $3.4 billion in recovered assets, 13 current or former presidents under investigation and allegations of corruption in 36 mostly Latin American countries — will likely face a new wave of challenges that could overturn convictions and roll back other rulings.

First up is a pending Supreme Court ruling that questions the conviction of Brazil’s former president — and former front-runner for the country’s 2018 presidential election — Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

The court is currently deliberating the validity of plea-bargain testimony from witnesses also accused of corruption; the outcome could affect more than 30 corruption convictions, including da Silva’s. 

Tarnished crusaders

The judge — Sergio Moro, now Justice Minister under Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro —  publicly pursued Lava Jato as an equal-opportunity effort to go after the bad guys, regardless of party affiliation. 

His biggest prize was da Silva, whom he sentenced to 25 years for accepting gifts from construction companies.  

With da Silva jailed in the midst of running for office, the right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro rode a wave of populist energy to capture the presidency.  

Now, a massive leak of text messages hacked from Moro’s phone seems to indicate that the crusading Judge collaborated illegally with the government’s lead prosecutor, Deltan Dallagnol, to specifically target da Silva, and weaken leftist Worker’s Party. 

This has only added to the suspicions of critics, who see Bolsonaro’s elevation of Moro to head the Brazil’s justice ministry as far too cozy. 

Dallagnol, the prosecutor, has also picked up some additional ethical baggage, when the leak revealed that he was paid speaking fees to some of the very companies being investigated in the Lava Jato scandal. 

Threats of “jail time” for journalist

In a country where, according to the Wall Street Journal, only a quarter of the population trusts the justice system, the head of Brazil’s Bar Association has called for Moro to resign, stating that the scandal threatens the credibility of the entire Lava Jato investigation. 

Moro hasn’t denied that he sent and received the leaked text messages, but he said that they were manipulated by The Intercept. 

And Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said that in obtaining the leaked messages, the editor of The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, may have “committed a crime” and that “maybe he will do jail time.” 

However, Brazil’s Supreme Court barred the Bolsonaro administration from making good on its threats, ruling that attempts to investigate Greenwald would be an “unambiguous act of censorship” in violation of Brazil’s Constitution. 

Moro himself also issued a decree that would expedite the deportation of foreign nationals who were deemed a “danger to the country,” according to a report in Deutsche Welle. 

The decree never specifically named Greenwald, who is American and lives in Brazil. 

Sources: The Intercept, Folha de Sao Paulo, New York Times, Duetsche Welle, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Committee to Protect Journalsts

%d bloggers like this: