Judicial Conspiracy in Brazil: Prosecutors Plotted Against Lula

In autumn last year, rather than an investigative judge, it should have been the Brazilian people who passed their verdict on the politics of the presidential candidate for the Workers’ Party (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, during general elections.

However, the main investigative judge in the scandal regarding the government-controlled Petrobras oil corporation, Sérgio Moro, and his team of prosecutors abused their power of office to put Lula behind bars. By doing so, they prevented him from putting forward his candidacy in the October 2016 presidential elections.[1]

In 2017, after a corruption trial that lasted several years, Moro sentenced Brazil’s former president (Lula was in office between 2003 and 2011) to a prison term of more than nine years. Shortly afterwards, his sentence was increased to 12 years and one month by an appellate court. 73-year-old Lula, a central figure of the Latin American left, who has been imprisoned since April 2018, had been considered a favourite for the presidential elections. However, due to his arrest, he wasn’t able to stand for election. The judge’s decision paved the way for Lula’s opponent, the right-wing extremist politician Jair Bolsonaro, who publicly stated that he hoped Lula would “rot in prison”.

Right after he took over as president, Bolsonaro nominated Moro as his Minister of Justice in the capital city of Brasília. Straight away, this appointment looked like an act of compensation for certain services. The electoral victory of the ultra right-wing politician Bolsonaro is the result of a judicial conspiracy, as revealed by The Intercept, an investigative platform. “Leaked mobile phone conversations”[2] between Moro and the prosecutors who were in charge of Lula’s case, videos, and audio recordings prove the intentional manipulation of investigations, which were used as a political weapon against the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT). They are proof of the fact that the aim of Lula’s opponents was not to carry out impartial corruption investigations, but to politically neutralise the former president.

Brazil is experiencing the beginning of a legal scandal, which may cause the corruption investigations of recent years to collapse like a house of cards. Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party, who ran for office instead of Lula against Bolsonaro, called it “possibly the biggest scandal in the Republic’s history”. Since 2014, Moro, the seemingly “fearless” corruption investigator from the southern provincial city of Curitiba, has resolved one corruption case after the other in the course of Operation Car Wash (“Lava Jato”). He has been widely praised for this. The investigators from Curitiba and Judge Moro became heroes to the Brazilian right because they managed to bring Lula down.

In the case of Lula da Silva, Sérgio Moro took it as true that the former president had facilitated contracts for the OAS construction company with the partially state-controlled oil firm Petrobras. As a kickback, he is said to have received a three-floor luxury flat in the coastal town of Guarujá. However, there has never been any substantial proof of these allegations. The trial was based exclusively on mere indications. The prosecutors weren’t even able to specify what kind of favour Lula had granted to the alleged “donors”.  There was talk of an “undefined administrative act”. To this day, Lula da Silva is reaffirming his innocence and calls the proceedings against him politically motivated. “I was convicted at first instance even though no evidence was brought forward”, Lula stated only recently in an interview with the German Spiegel magazine (22/05/2019).[3]

In early 2018, a report in the weekly newspaper CartaCapital caused a stir. It positioned the actions taken against Lula in the context of a continental strategy against the left in Latin America. The Dominican politician Manolo Pichardo mentioned a meeting in the American metropolis of Atlanta, during which conservative politicians from Latin America had discussed destabilising strategies along the lines of the successful “soft” coups d’état in Honduras and Paraguay, 2009 and 2012 respectively. “Our oligarchies don’t lift a finger without being allowed or told to do so by the USA”, Pichardo is convinced.[4]

Even the investigators themselves had massive doubts that the evidence was enough to find Lula guilty. In the decisive “leak”, the chief prosecutor, Deltan Dallagnol, voiced his concerns during a chat with Judge Moro using the Telegram messenger service. He had reservations about whether the apartment was in fact Lula’s and whether it had anything to do with Petrobras. Dallagnol expressed his concern about the lack of evidence, “They will say that we’re pressing charges based on newspaper reports and weak evidence”. This is why it was necessary to prepare for a solid public discourse.

The political beliefs of the judicial officers were revealed in another chat between the chief prosecutor Dallagnol and an unidentified contact called “Carol PGR” (Procuradoria-Geral da República, similar to the Federal Prosecutors’ Office). Carol PGR: “Deltan, my friend! I’m worried about the possible return of the PT [to the government]. But I prayed a lot for God to enlighten our people and for a wonder which shall save us all”. Deltan Dallagnol replied, “Thank you, Carol! Yes, pray! That’s what our country needs”.

The documents from 2015-2017 reveal that those involved did not just limit themselves to prayer. The then judge and incumbent Minister of Justice Moro not only colluded with the prosecutors of the Car Wash task force but gave them instructions to put Lula da Silva behind bars. He acted as an initiator and a consultant for the prosecutors, giving them advice regarding which leads to follow in their investigations. Furthermore, Moro and Dallagnol used certain tricks to make sure the case was assigned to them and not to a different court. In fact, the regional prosecutor’s office in São Paulo had claimed to have taken on the case earlier.

“According to Brazilian law, this is illegal”, stated Leandro Demori, the editor-in-chief of The Intercept Brasil. The 1988 Brazilian Constitution emphasises the independence of the judicial sector and prohibits any exchange of information between the prosecutor’s office and the judge outside the trial. The judge must examine the evidence and motions presented by the prosecutors and defence attorneys, and must assess them. The judge is explicitly banned from taking part in the investigations.

The texts published by The Intercept demonstrate a total lack of neutrality and a direct involvement in the strategy of the prosecutor’s office. Not only this, Moro had also given instructions on how to deal with the press and any potential witnesses. He pressed for searches when too much time had passed and the topic risked disappearing from the public eye. In a chat with Dallagnol he wrote, “Hasn’t it already been a long time since the last investigations?” The last operation had taken place a month before and in Moro’s opinion it was time to “strike” again. “That’s correct”, was Dallagnol’s response, and three weeks later, the bell for the start of the next stage of the operation was rung.

Neither Moro nor Dallagnol have denied the content of the disclosed texts. On the contrary, after their collusion became publicly known, the incumbent Minister of Justice called talks between judges and prosecutors “normal”. This is, however, absurd. “If talks between judges and investigators are common practice, they are corrupt too, since this is simply illegal”, Sérgio Praça of the Brazilian think tank Fundação Getúlio said to Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster. Meanwhile, the federal assembly of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) has recommended the immediate dismissal of the Minister of Justice and the Car Wash task force. At the same time, the self-regulatory Committee of the National Council of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (CNMP) has lodged a disciplinary complaint against the chief prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol.

At first, Moro’s appointment as minister seemed to be a clever move by the ultra right-wing president. Now, however, the tide may turn. This is because it is no other than Bolsonaro’s “super minister” who is engulfing the already battered government, consisting of right-wing conservatives, military officers and evangelicals, in crisis. For Jair Bolsonaro, the revelations of the investigative portal are coming at the worst possible moment. After a little less than six months, he is under pressure as a result of the country’s economic situation. In addition, a pension reform he planned isn’t making any progress. His environmental and economic policy is also highly disputed because it endangers the existence of the rainforests, amongst others.

With the support of Frente Popular and Povo Sem Medo (Nation Without Fear), the trade unions called for another general strike. The strike was against the proposed destruction of the state-regulated pension scheme, which is based on solidarity and has been working efficiently for decades, and against cuts in the education sector. In a declaration to the Brazilian People (Carta Terra, Território, Diversidade e Lutas) which was adopted by nearly 40 executive boards of trade unions and social movements, the motivations for the general strike were set out: an increase in unemployment (currently at 12.7%), wage reductions, undermining workers’ rights, an increase in precarious and slave labour, cuts in social security, the minimum income policy, the liquidation of family subsidies and housing programmes, infringement of women’s and youth rights, as well as budget cuts in public education.

A central demand made by the signatories was the nationwide struggle for the release of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was unlawfully arrested. They also asked for “respect for the constitutional and democratic rights of all people”. According to the union of metalworkers, 95% of the workers participated in the strike. In large companies, such as Volkswagen, employees stopped working. According to the unions, workers went on strike in 189 cities.


[1] Cf. Otto König/Richard Detje: Brasilien – Hexenjagd auf Ex-Präsidenten. Causa Lula kann die Linke vereinen, Sozialismus Aktuell 28/8/2018. Regarding the long-term political development in terms of the “political culture” in Latin America, see Dieter Boris: Politische Kultur in Lateinamerika. Hintergründe, Wirkungen und Perspektiven, in: Supplement der Zeitschrift Sozialismus.de 7/8-2019 (in-press).

[2] The Intercept claims to possess far more material and to have published only “a small part” of it. Apparently, there are 1,500 hours of audio and video recordings, as well as 1,700 pages of confidential documents mentioning Brazilian ministers, judges, military officers and editors-in-chief of certain media outlets. One of the founders of The Intercept is the journalist and Pulitzer laureate Glenn Greenwald who, in 2013, was part of the team of journalists who published the revelations made by American whistle-blower Edward Snowden regarding the NSA, the American intelligence agency.

[3] From the very beginning and despite massive criticism, the German Federal Government has been defending the proceedings against Lula. “According to the judgment of the Federal Government, there is no reason to believe the proceedings against the former Brazilian president Lula da Silva are politically motivated or contrary to the rule of law”, was the government’s response to a parliamentary inquiry by DIE LINKE.

[4] Gerhard Dilger: Brasiliens Ex-Präsident Lula Justizfarce gegen Lula, zweiter Akt, Neues Deutschland 25/01/2018.

Originally published at the website of sozialismus.de(full version)