|[Published: Tuesday June 11 2019]
Brazil’s prosecutors who indicted Lula schemed to prevent his party winning 2018 election
BRASILIA, 11 June. - (ANA) - AN ENORMOUS TROVE of secret documents reveals that Brazil’s most powerful prosecutors, who have spent years insisting they are apolitical, instead plotted to prevent the Workers’ Party, or PT, from winning the 2018 presidential election by blocking or weakening a pre-election interview with former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with the explicit purpose of affecting the outcome of the election.
The massive archive, provided exclusively to The Intercept, shows multiple examples of politicized abuse of prosecutorial powers by those who led the country’s sweeping Operation Car Wash corruption probe since 2014. It also reveals a long-denied political and ideological agenda. One glaring example occurred 10 days before the first round of presidential voting last year, when a Supreme Court justice granted a petition from the country’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, to interview Lula, who was in prison on corruption charges brought by the Car Wash task force.
Immediately upon learning of that decision on September 28, 2018, the team of prosecutors who handled Lula’s corruption case — who spent years vehemently denying that they were driven by political motives of any kind — began discussing in a private Telegram chat group how to block, subvert, or undermine the Supreme Court decision. This was based on their expressed fear that the decision would help the PT — Lula’s party — win the election. Based on their stated desire to prevent the PT’s return to power, they spent hours debating strategies to prevent or dilute the political impact of Lula’s interview.
The Car Wash prosecutors explicitly said that their motive in stopping Lula’s interview was to prevent the PT from winning. One of the prosecutors, Laura Tessler, exclaimed upon learning of the decision, “What a joke!” and then explained the urgency of preventing or undermining the decision. “A press conference before the second round of voting could help elect Haddad,” she wrote in the chat group, referring to the PT’s candidate Fernando Haddad. The chief of the prosecutor task force, Deltan Dallagnol, conducted a separate conversation with a longtime confidant, also a prosecutor, and they agreed that they would “pray” together that the events of that day would not usher in the PT’s return to power.
Many in Brazil have long accused the Car Wash prosecutors, as well as the judge who adjudicated the corruption cases, Sérgio Moro (now the country’s justice minister under President Jair Bolsonaro), of being driven by ideological and political motives. Moro and the Car Wash team have repeatedly denied these accusations, insisting that their only consideration was to expose and punish political corruption irrespective of party or political faction.
But this new archive of documents — some of which are being published today in other articles by The Intercept and The Intercept Brasil — casts considerable doubt on the denials of the prosecutors. Indeed, many of these documents show improper and unethical plotting between Dallagnol and Moro on how to best structure the corruption case against Lula — although Moro was legally required to judge the case as a neutral arbiter. Other documents include private admissions among the prosecutors that the evidence proving Lula’s guilt was lacking. Overall, the documents depict a task force of prosecutors seemingly intent on exploiting its legal powers for blatantly political ends, led by its goal of preventing a return to power of the Workers’ Party generally, and Lula specifically.
The secrets unveiled by these documents are crucial for the public to know because the massive Car Wash corruption probe, which has swept through Brazil for the last five years, has been one of the most consequential events in the history of the world’s fifth-most populous country — not just legally but also politically.
Until now, both the Car Wash task force and Moro have been heralded around the world with honors, prizes, and media praise. But this new archive of documents shines substantial light on previously unreported motives, actions, and often deceitful maneuvering by these powerful actors.
While the Car Wash team of prosecutors has imprisoned a wide range of powerful politicians and billionaires, by far their most significant accomplishment was the 2018 imprisonment of Lula. At the time of Lula’s conviction, all polls showed that the former president — who had twice been elected by large margins, in 2002 and then again in 2006, and left office with a 87 percent approval rate — was the overwhelming frontrunner to once again win the presidency in 2018.
But Lula’s criminal conviction last year, once it was quickly affirmed by an appellate court, rendered him ineligible to run for the presidency, clearing the way for Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate, to win against Lula’s chosen successor, Haddad, the former São Paulo mayor. Supporters of the PT and many others in Brazil have long insisted that these prosecutors, while masquerading as apolitical and non-ideological actors whose only agenda was fighting corruption, were in fact right-wing ideologues whose overriding mission was to destroy the PT and prevent Lula’s return to power in the 2018 election.
These documents lend obvious credibility to those accusations. They show extensive plotting in secret to block and undermine the September 28 judicial order from Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, which authorized one of the country’s most prominent reporters, Folha’s Mônica Bergamo, to interview Lula in prison. Lewandowski’s decision was expressly grounded in the right of a free press, which he said entitled the newspaper to speak to Lula and report on his perspectives.
In his decision, Lewandowski also explained that the arguments that had been used all year to prevent a prison interview with Lula — namely, “security fears“ and the need to keep prisoners silent — were blatantly invalid given the numerous other prison interviews “permitted for prisoners condemned of crimes such as trafficking, murder and international organized crime.” The ruling also noted that Lula was neither in a maximum-security prison nor under a specially restrictive prison regime, further eroding the rationale for a ban on interviewing him.
Up until that point, Lula — widely regarded as one of the most effective and charismatic political communicators in the democratic world — had been held incommunicado, prevented from speaking to the public about the election. Any pre-election interview of Lula, in which he could have offered his views on Bolsonaro and the other candidates, including the PT’s Haddad, would have commanded massive media attention and likely influenced a decisive bloc of voters who, to this day, remain highly loyal to the former president (which is why Lula, even once he was imprisoned, remained the poll frontrunner).
The Car Wash prosecutors learned of the judicial decision authorizing Folha’s pre-election prison interview with Lula when an article about it was posted in their encrypted Telegram chat group. The panic among them was immediate. They repeatedly worried that the interview, to be conducted so close to the first round of voting, would help the PT’s Haddad win the presidential election. Based explicitly on that fear, the Car Wash prosecutors spent the day working feverishly to develop strategies to either overturn the ruling, delay Lula’s interview until after the election, or ensure that it was structured so as to minimize its political impact and its ability to help the PT win. - (ANA) -
AB/ANA/11 June 2019 - - -