ISLAMABAD: Brazil’s Supreme Court said Monday it would re-examine an appeal by jailed former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in the wake of allegations that a prominent judge collaborated with prosecutors to convict the popular former leftist politician.
Brazil has been rocked by allegations that Sergio Moro, a former judge who now serves as justice minister, repeatedly collaborated with prosecutors during high-profile corruption investigations – including the controversial case that imprisoned Lula and barred him from running in last year’s presidential election.
According to investigative website The Intercept, Moro gave prosecutors strategic advice, criticism and tips during the sprawling corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash that jailed hundreds of executives, politicians and middlemen.
The Intercept said it was only beginning to report on an “enormous trove” of leaked messages between Moro and prosecutors that it had received from an anonymous source. It said the messages, sent via the encrypted messaging platform Telegram, raise serious questions about the impartiality of Moro.
The excerpts, released on Sunday, included exchanges in which Moro made suggestions to prosecutors about the focus, pace and sequence of investigations.
Attorneys for Lula, a leftist icon who remains one of the most influential opposition figures in Brazil, have been petitioning the Supreme Court for his release and seized on the reports to argue that his sentence should be overturned.
Moro, speaking at an event in Brasilia on Monday, argued that the messages published so far showed no improper conduct on his part.
The team of federal prosecutors cited in the messages said they had acted properly throughout the five-year Car Wash investigation that uncovered billions of dollars of political bribery. They said in written statements that they had been targeted by a hacker, adding that they were concerned about messages being taken out of context and possibly forged.
Moro, who left his role as the most prominent judge in the Car Wash probe to become justice minister in January under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, also criticised The Intercept for not naming “the person responsible for the criminal invasion of the prosecutors' cell phones”.
“Regarding the content of the messages citing me, there is no sign of any abnormality or directing of actions as a magistrate, despite them being taken out of context,” he said in a statement.
Bolsonaro’s office told Brazil's Globo TV network late Monday that the leader had “complete trust” in Moro. Andrew Fishman, managing editor at The Intercept Brasil, said that Moro and prosecutors had said over the years that they were not collaborating, and “the reporting shows that their private actions contradict their own public statements at the time”.
Brazil's national bar association, which has frequently criticised what it sees as overly aggressive prosecutions and in recent months called for the Car Wash team of prosecutors to be disbanded, on Monday said Moro and prosecutors cited in the leak should be suspended pending an investigation. The justice minister is going on leave due to protests.
Moro’s conviction of Lula was the highest-profile verdict in the ongoing Car Wash probe, which has led to the imprisonment of scores of powerful politicians and businessman in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, reshaping the region's political landscape.
Lula, who faces at least six other trials on corruption charges, ran for president last year but was blocked from appearing on the ballot because of his conviction by Moro, which was upheld on appeal. Lula led opinion polls heading into the election, which was won by far-right maverick Bolsonaro.
Some excerpted conversations published by The Intercept showed prosecutors discussing how to block journalists from interviewing Lula in jail during last year's campaign. A message attributed to one of the prosecutors, Laura Tessler, suggested that such an interview could help Lula's stand-in on the Workers' Party ticket.
The prosecutors said in their statement on Monday that imprisonment involves restricting the communications of all inmates, regardless of who they are. Tessler did not respond to a request for comment.
In a written statement, Lula's legal team said the leak proved what they have argued in court: that Moro and federal prosecutors teamed up to ensure that their client would be quickly found guilty and blocked from last year's election. Moro and the prosecutors have denied any illegal collaboration or political motives.
The Intercept said it had secured the archive of texts, audio and video outside of Brazil so "numerous journalists have access to it" and no one country can block use of the material.
Meanwhile, legislators in Brasilia suggested the controversy would not slow their work on an overhaul of the country's social security system, which the government considers essential to kick-starting an economic recovery.
Congressman Marcelo Ramos, who heads the pension reform committee in the lower house of the National Congress, said he and his colleagues had a responsibility not to slow their work. Still, he said, Moro should temporarily step down as justice minister until he is able to explain his collaboration with prosecutors. That would give the federal police, which Moro oversees, freedom to investigate the former judge if deemed necessary.
Meanwhile, a Russian judge has been forced to resign over a topless picture of her, months after showing leniency towards two anti-Putin teenagers in a court case.
Irina Devayeva has stood down after her mobile phone was seemingly hacked and the naked image stolen from it. The official line is that she left the court 'at her own request' but there are concerns she may have been targeted by the Kremlin over the earlier case.
By releasing the two teenagers from custody last year - after they were accused of plotting to overthrow Vladimir Putin’s government - she may have been seen as rebelling against the Kremlin's line, it is feared.
According to Znak, the topless photo was taken well before Devayeva became a judge in Moscow's Dorogomilovsky court. She had never shared it from her phone or published it on social media, it is reported.
The earlier controversy surrounded 18-year-old Anna Pavlikova and 19-year-old Maria Dubovik, who were released from custody last year. The pair faced charges of creating an extremist group aiming to overthrow Vladimir Putin's government.
Meanwhile, three judges and a discipline inspection official who were filmed cavorting with prostitutes in a nightclub were removed from their posts at the Shanghai Higher People's Court in China, municipal officials said Monday.
Chen Xueming and Zhao Minghua , chief and deputy chief tribunal judge of the No 1 civil court, as well as Ni Zhengwen , deputy director of the court's discipline inspection commission, were also expelled from the Communist Party. Wang Guojun, the deputy chief tribunal judge of the No 5 civil court, was sacked and placed on party probation.
A fifth individual, Guo Xianghua, the deputy manager of a company affiliated with the Shanghai Construction Group, was expelled from the party and fired by the company.
Chen, Zhao, Ni and Guo were detained by local police and would be held for 10 days, the municipal discipline inspection watchdog said.
The authority said Guo invited Zhao to dinner at a local restaurant on June 9, and the three other court officials joined them. After dinner, they went to Hengshan Resort where they enjoyed the services of prostitutes. Zhao, Chen, Ni and Guo again patronised prostitutes later that night.
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