The "car wash" scandal that shook up Brazil's politics led to the imprisonment of the beloved president Lula, followed swiftly by his neoliberal/looter successor Michael Temer, creating the political chaos that paved the way for the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a violent, homophobic, racist autocrat who advocates for torture/murder of his political opponents.
Despite all this, the car wash task-force was widely praised in Brazil and abroad for its apolitical devotion to rooting out corruption (and indeed, the task-force's prosecutions also jailed some of the country's richest, most powerful oligarchs).
But a new trove of leaked Telegram group-chats between federal prosecutors and judges (including the judge who put Lula in jail and went on to serve as Bolsonaro's justice minister) reveal that the prosecutions were political, and were designed to keep Lula out of office and deliver political victories to far-right parties that had promised wealth-friendly policies of the sort that Bolsonaro has gone on to deliver.
Through the leaks, we learn that during Lula's trials, the judge (now justice minister Sergio Moro) engaged in grossly improper secret conversations with the prosecutors, giving them advice on how to improve their chances of securing a guilty verdict. Subsequent to Lula's conviction — after he was put into a secretive prison and held incommunicado — prosecutors conspired to undermine a court order granting an interview with Lula, seeking to either delay the interview until after elections (to help deliver a victory to Bolsonaro) or to add so many other reporters to the interview that nothing of substance could emerge.
It's an incredibly important political scandal in one of the world's largest countries, where a dictator is making ready to torch the planet by cutting down the Amazon to make way for his friends in agribusiness.
Perhaps most remarkably, after Bolsonaro won the presidency, he created a new position of unprecedented authority, referred to by Brazilians as "super justice minister," to oversee an agency with consolidated powers over law enforcement, surveillance, and investigation previously interspersed among multiple ministries. Bolsonaro created that position for the benefit of the very judge who found Lula guilty, Sergio Moro, and it is the position Moro now occupies. In other words, Moro now wields immense police and surveillance powers in Brazil — courtesy of a president who was elected only after Moro, while he was as judge, rendered Bolsonaro's key adversary ineligible to run against him.
The Car Wash prosecutors and Moro have been highly controversial in Brazil and internationally — heralded by many as anti-corruption heroes and accused by others of being clandestine right-wing ideologues masquerading as apolitical law enforcers. Their critics have insisted that they have abused and exploited their law enforcement powers with the politicized goal of preventing Lula from returning to the presidency and destroying his leftist Workers' Party, or the PT. Moro and the prosecutors have, with equal vehemence, denied that they have any political allegiances or objectives and have said they are simply trying to cleanse Brazil of corruption.
But, until now, the Car Wash prosecutors and Moro have carried out their work largely in secret, preventing the public from evaluating the validity of the accusations against them and the truth of their denials. That's what makes this new archive so journalistically valuable: For the first time, the public will learn what these judges and prosecutors were saying and doing when they thought nobody was listening.
Exclusive: Brazil's Top Prosecutors Who Indicted Lula Schemed in Secret Messages to Prevent His Party From Winning 2018 Election [Glenn Greenwald/The Intercept]
(Image: PT Brasil, CC-BY)