SAO PAULO – Lava Jato (Car Wash), the sprawling, years-long anti-corruption investigation that led to the jailing of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, “corroded” the rule of law in Brazil, the former president’s attorney said in an interview with EFE.
“It is a great scandal for Brazilian justice that needs to be investigated,” Cristiano Zanin said. “It is time to correct the damage that Lava Jato has done to Brazilian justice and to the country as a whole, to sovereignty.”
Lava Jato initially centered on a $2 billion corruption scandal at Brazilian state oil company Petrobras, but expanded to include politicians and several of Brazil’s most successful private firms, such as construction giant Odebrecht.
Lula, the 75-year-old founder and leader of the center-left Workers Party (PT), was released in November 2019 after spending 19 months behind bars on a conviction for corruption.
The charges – based solely on testimony obtained via plea bargain – were that Lula accepted bribes from construction company OAS in the form of renovations to a seaside condo he never owned or occupied.
Zanin and the rest of Lula’s legal team are trying to get Brazil’s Supreme Court to throw out that conviction and two others in light of evidence that the federal judge who oversaw Lavo Jato was far from impartial.
It was Sergio Moro, celebrated in Brazilian and international media as a crusader against corruption, who found Lula guilty in the condo case and sentenced him to a decade in prison.
The convictions prevented Lula, Brazil’s most popular politician, from running for president in 2018 amid polls showing that he would have won by a wide margin.
Lula’s exclusion paved the way for rightist Jair Bolsonaro – a professed admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime – to win the presidency.
One of Bolsonaro’s first Cabinet appointments was naming Moro to head the Justice Ministry, though the ex-judge resigned in April 2020, accusing the president of interfering with investigations.
“We have presented evidence of the absolutely compromised and biased actions (of Moro),” Zanin told EFE. “We show that all of that is connected with the fact that the then-judge had the intention of removing Lula from the political life of the country at the same time that he helped elect President Bolsonaro and participated in his government.”
In 2019, The Intercept Brasil published a series of articles based on leaked communications between Moro and the prosecutors pursuing Lula.
The exchanges revealed that the then-federal judge shaped the strategy against Lula and that Moro and his team were coordinating with prosecutors in the United States even as the US National Security Agency was spying on Petrobras and on Lula’s successor as president, Dilma Rousseff.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court granted Zanin’s motion to give the defense access to additional material that had been obtained by the hackers who provided the information to The Intercept.
That information had been in the hands of authorities since they arrested the hackers.
The new evidence confirms the existence of a conspiracy on the part of Moro and the prosecutors “to convict and delegitimize” the man who governed Brazil from 2003-2011, Zanin said.
“Lava Jato opened cases to promote a veritable judicial crusade against Lula,” the lawyer said.
While only the condo conviction was handed down directly by Moro, Zanin and his colleagues say the erstwhile judge was deeply involved in two other cases in which Lula was convicted and they are asking the court to throw out all three verdicts.
In a recent interview with online news outlet UOL, Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes said that Moro and the Lava Jato task force operated “totally outside legal parameters.”
“As we saw, it was a threat to democracy. In the end, there was a ‘Lava Jato party,’ they were interfering in the political process, they were arresting a candidate and defining the election, all in a combined game. They put the East German police, the Stasi, to shame,” Mendes said.
If the Supreme Court agrees to overturn the convictions, Lula will regain his political rights and be able to run in the 2022 presidential election.
“Our action is in the judicial realm: overturn the verdicts and re-establish the rights of the former president. Whether he runs or not is beyond our field of action,” Zanin told EFE, hours before Lula said that if his rights were restored, he would be prepared to run in 2022 if it were the only way to get rid of Bolsonaro.
“That will also depend on the political circumstances of the moment, it will depend on the PT, on the alliances we can build and if it is really necessary that I be the candidate,” Lula said in an interview with UOL.
Last November, Moro accepted a senior position with US-based management consultants Alvarez & Marsal, which said that the former jurist would be “advising clients on regulatory strategy and compliance.”
The firm’s Brazilian clients include Odebrecht and other companies that suffered as a result of the Lava Jato probe.
“Moro is lending the assets of Lava Jato to a company that is profiting from the results of the investigation,” Brazilian bar association president Felipe Santa Cruz said.