Operation Car Wash’s biggest weapon turned against itself

. Jun 11, 2019
Operation Car Wash biggest weapon turned against itself former judge sergio moro Former Judge Sergio Moro

Since its early days, Operation Car Wash has drawn comparisons to Italy’s Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) investigation. Like its European predecessor, prosecutors hit the core of a deeply-corrupt political system that encompassed major parties and seemed entrenched in all levels of public administration. Both probes eroded the country’s levels of trust in institutions, culminating with the rise of a right-wing populist to the presidency: Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

But the two investigations share other characteristics. Firstly is the reliance on a close relationship with the press to gather popular support and corner the political establishment. In order to sustain such a close relationship—which earned then-Judge Sergio Moro comparisons to Superman—the operation relied on selective leaks.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They happened in two main ways. First were traditional leaks, where sources within the Justice system gave privileged access to journalists. The other was a more subtle—but equally effective—strategy of making statements public in timely situations. Now, as </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> has started what promises to be a long series of leaks of messages exchanged by Mr. Moro and prosecutors, the operation&#8217;s members are having a taste of their own medicine.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Today, </span><b>The Brazilian Report </b><span style="font-weight: 400;">will look back at some of the most notorious leaks in the history of Operation Car Wash.</span></p> <h2>The beginnings</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In September 2014—just one month prior to that year&#8217;s general elections—weekly magazine </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Veja</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> published a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">report</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> revealing details of statements given by a former Petrobras executive. He detailed corruption schemes benefiting three state governors, six senators, one member of the presidential cabinet, and at least 25 congressmen. At the time, the Dilma Rousseff administration accused Operation Car Wash of trying to influence the elections.</span></p> <h2>Former Speaker Eduardo Cunha</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In October 2015, facing multiple corruption allegations, then-Speaker Eduardo Cunha denied (under oath) before a House committee of ever having hidden bank accounts in other countries. Shortly after, the press published evidence of accounts linked to him in Switzerland. Mr. Cunha—who has been in jail since October 2016—has always accused Operation Car Wash prosecutors of selectively leaking information to hurt him.</span></p> <h2>The Odebrecht List</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The press released a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">list</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> of over 200 politicians belonging to 18 parties who supposedly took bribes from the Odebrecht construction firm. The list had been apprehended in February of 2016, during the operation&#8217;s 23rd phase (it has already had 61). After the list was published, Mr. Moro decided, as the case&#8217;s judge, to seal the document, as many of the featured names had legal privileges as elected officials.</span></p> <h2>A national &#8220;pact&#8221;</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Just days after Michel Temer took office as president, an audio recording surfaced with one of the president&#8217;s main allies talking about a national pact to &#8220;stop the bleeding&#8221; caused by Operation Car Wash. The politician resigned from his position in the cabinet, and initiated a tense relationship between the Temer administration and the investigators.</span></p> <h2>Wire-tapping the president</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Moro time and again used his former position as judge to make critical information public at key moments. In March 2016, then-President Dilma Rousseff named her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as her Chief of Staff. There were two reasons for the move: (1) to help the government negotiate her way out of impeachment, and (2) to shield Lula from a possible arrest warrant.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On the day Lula was set to be announced, Mr. Moro released the contents of a conversation indicating the ulterior motive for the nomination. The release sparked protests across the country and made it impossible for Lula to join the cabinet.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Later, however, the Operation Car Wash rapporteur in the Supreme Court called Mr. Moro&#8217;s conduct inappropriate. Firstly, because the conversation was recorded </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">after</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> the investigators&#8217; wiretap authorization had expired, and secondly, as the conversation included the sitting president, it could not have been released without the green light from the Supreme Court. Mr. Moro apologized, but the messages recently leaked between him and prosecutors showed he didn&#8217;t regret the move. </span></p> <h2>Palocci&#8217;s plea deal</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Six days before the October 2018 first-round election, Mr. Moro lifted the seal on part of the statements given by Antonio Palocci, who served as Lula&#8217;s Finance Minister and Ms. Rousseff&#8217;s Chief of Staff. As Mr. Palocci made harsh accusations against both, the judge was accused of trying to tip the election in favor of Jair Bolsonaro—who by then was already the heavy favorite. About a month later, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Moro accepted an invitation from Mr. Bolsonaro to join his cabinet</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.

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