Marcelo Bretas: the new Car Wash face cozying up to Bolsonaro

. Feb 18, 2020
bretas car wash bolsonaro Judge Marcelo Bretas. Photo: Tomaz Silva/ABr

Since Sergio Moro left the bench to become Jair Bolsonaro’s Justice Minister, the gravitational center of the Operation Car Wash corruption investigations moved from Curitiba, where Mr. Moro served as a judge, to Rio de Janeiro. In the Wonderful City, the new face of Car Wash is Federal Judge Marcelo Bretas, who has ordered several high-profile arrests, such as those of former President Michel Temer and former billionaire—and now “just” super-rich—Eike Batista. 

Mr. Bretas has never shied away from the limelight; in fact, he has often reveled in it. However, his excessive exposure is now causing a negative backlash.

</p> <p>Over the weekend, Mr. Bretas escorted President Jair Bolsonaro to an Evangelical Christian event in Rio de Janeiro. Beyond simply accompanying the head of state, Mr. Bretas greeted Mr. Bolsonaro at the airport, received a lift in the president&#8217;s car, and was even invited to the inauguration of an infrastructure project—the kind of event politicians would give an arm and a leg to appear at, especially in an election year. Also, every step of the way was carefully documented on the <a href="">judge&#8217;s social media accounts</a>.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1078964"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>In response, the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) and an electoral prosecutor in Rio requested an investigation by the National Justice Council, the agency that acts as a watchdog for Brazil&#8217;s judiciary. &#8220;The presence of a judge on a political platform contaminates the image of the Justice system, which must remain impartial,&#8221; said OAB President Felipe Santa Cruz, in an official letter.</p> <p>This is by no means the first time Mr. Bretas has publicly displayed his affection for Jair Bolsonaro. Since the 2018 campaign, the judge comments and shares many of the president&#8217;s posts. When Mr. Bolsonaro followed him on Twitter, Mr. Bretas gushed in admiration: &#8220;I&#8217;m honored to have the Brazilian president among the followers of this account. Gratitude.&#8221;</p> <p>Mr. Bretas made sure to attend Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s inauguration—taking a ride in a plane used by <a href="">Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel</a>—a former judge himself—which stirred much controversy at the time.</p> <h2>Bolsonaro &amp; Bretas: a win-win situation</h2> <p>While the proximity between Jair Bolsonaro and Marcelo Bretas could be harmless in itself, driven only by mutual affinity, the truth is that both have something to gain from rubbing shoulders with one other. For the president, attaching his image to that of the leading judge in the country&#8217;s biggest anti-corruption effort has no downside. On the other hand, Mr. Bretas could be angling for a future seat on the Supreme Court.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro is set to pick two new justices for the highest court by the end of his term—with two members reaching the compulsory retirement age of 75 years old. He talked about naming someone &#8220;extremely Evangelical,&#8221; which is a description that Mr. Bretas fits well.</p> <p>This courtship, however, has not yet been enough to put the new face of Operation Car Wash on Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s shortlist just yet. As we explained in our <a href="">February 17 Weekly Report</a> (platinum or standard subscription required) sources close to the president told reporter Brenno Grillo that four other names have the inside lane.</p> <h2>The limits for a judge to act politically</h2> <p>The Brazilian Constitution restrains judges from &#8220;engaging in political and partisan activity.&#8221; And the 1979 Organic Law of the Brazilian Judiciary determines that judges should lose their job in such cases. Nowhere, however, is &#8220;political and partisan activity&#8221; specified.</p> <p>A 2019 resolution of the National Justice Council that establishes social media guidelines for members of the bench recommends judges to avoid &#8220;expressing opinions or sharing information that might compromise society&#8217;s trust in an <a href="">independent, impartial, and righteous</a> justice system.&#8221;</p> <p>The same resolution says judges must also avoid &#8220;self-promotion or overexposure.&#8221; However, many judges accuse the text of restricting their freedom of speech.

Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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