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Sergio Moro resigns as Justice Minister and goes out swinging

and . Apr 24, 2020
Sergio Moro Justice Minister Brazil Sergio Moro. Photo: José Cruz/ABr

Justice Minister Sergio Moro resigned from the government this morning, accusing President Jair Bolsonaro of interfering politically in the Federal Police. 

</p> <p>Tensions between Mr. Moro and the president reached a breaking point on Thursday, when it was announced that Mr. Bolsonaro intended to fire the Federal Police Chief Marcelo Valeixo.</p> <p>Having appointed Mr. Valeixo as a trustworthy ally, Sergio Moro revolted against the government&#8217;s decision and threatened resignation. Sources heard by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> say that he was temporarily convinced to back down, but saying he would abandon his post if he was not allowed to appoint Mr. Valeixo&#8217;s successor.</p> <p>On Friday morning, the dismissal of Chief Valeixo was <a href="http://www.in.gov.br/en/web/dou/-/decreto-de-23-de-abril-de-2020-253769429">made official</a>, and Sergio Moro announced his resignation in a press conference hours later. Mr. Moro said he was &#8220;surprised&#8221; by the firing of Chief Valeixo. &#8220;It was a sign that the president no longer wants me to be the Justice Minister.&#8221;</p> <p>The outgoing Justice Minister went on to accuse the president of political interference in the Federal Police, claiming that Mr. Bolsonaro &#8220;wanted a Federal Police Chief he could call, that could give him information on investigation reports.&#8221; Said reports are confidential, and requesting access to them is illegal.</p> <p>Nothing that Mr. Moro said comes as a surprise to those who observe the Bolsonaro administration closely. However, his political weight gives these accusations much more gravity, and could be an entryway to <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/24/sources-political-leaders-negotiate-bolsonaros-impeachment/">President Bolsonaro&#8217;s impeachment</a>.&nbsp;</p> <h2>The fallout for the Bolsonaro government</h2> <p>After the firing of Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta last week, this is the second high-profile exit of a popular cabinet member in the space of seven days.</p> <p>Sergio Moro rose to fame as the judge of the famed Operation Car Wash corruption investigations. His convictions as part of the graft probe put prominent business owners and politicians in jail, none more high-profile than former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As a result, Mr. Moro gathered huge support among anti-left-wing and anti-corruption crusaders.</p> <p>Not even revelations that Mr. Moro <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2019/06/12/intercept-car-wash-leaks-moro/">illegally orchestrated the case against former President Lula</a> — by colluding with the prosecution — did any serious damage to his faithful support base.</p> <p>Upon bringing him into the fold as his Justice Minister, President Jair Bolsonaro managed to transfer Mr. Moro&#8217;s popularity to his own cause — now, it remains to be seen what the minister&#8217;s resignation will do to the president&#8217;s support base.</p> <p>One pro-Bolsonaro member of Congress told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that he doesn&#8217;t expect the government&#8217;s supporters to jump ship, but that they will &#8220;become more dubious about Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s leadership ability.&#8221;</p> <p>With his Health and Justice Ministers now gone, the <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/24/brazilian-justice-minister-to-resign-bolsonaro-government/">next major head on the chopping block</a> could be Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, who has become increasingly more isolated amid the Covid-19 pandemic. This week, the government announced a new economic growth plan entitled &#8220;Pro Brazil,&#8221; but Mr. Guedes was not even invited to its launch.</p> <p>“There is no way to hide. The pandemic shook the government. Firing Mr. Mandetta was the first hemorrhage. Ignoring [Paulo] Guedes is the second. The capitulation to the center is the third. The inexplicable and mysterious charge against [Marcelo] Valeixo is the fourth. The government is bloodless,” said congressman Fábio Trad.</p> <h2>Changes in the Federal Police</h2> <p>Under the condition of anonymity, one member of the Federal Police told <strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>that the atmosphere in the corporation is one of &#8220;apprehension and instability.&#8221; While a revolt is reportedly unlikely, there is uncertainty about the future and projects that will continue.</p> <p>President Bolsonaro is reportedly considering appointing Anderson Gustavo Torres, the head of public security in the Federal District, as the new Federal Police Chief. Mr. Torres does not have a very good relationship with Sergio Moro, especially after the outgoing Justice Minister decided to transfer a notorious organized crime boss to a federal prison just outside the capital city of Brasilia. With the departure of Mr. Valeixo, the Federal Police is now set for its fourth change at the helm in just three years.</p> <p>&#8220;The big problem in Brazil is that the Federal Police Chief has no mandate, as it is in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, for example,&#8221; said Edvandir Paiva, president of the National Association of Federal Police Delegates. &#8220;The Federal Police is always at the mercy of the government.&#8221;</p> <h2>Sergio Moro&#8217;s legacy</h2> <p>Besides the departure of a figure who has become something of a symbol of anti-corruption in Brazil, Mr. Moro&#8217;s resignation is also set to alter the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/02/04/brazil-anti-crime-plan-explained/">working model</a> of the Justice Minister. In a sector accustomed to repressing crime with police on the street, Sergio Moro&#8217;s arrival brought a more scientific vision in the fight against crime. In his administration, he created large databases, including genetic and ballistic profiles, for instance.</p> <p>&#8220;Even though he was a judge, he brought a dynamic of technology [to the Justice Ministry],&#8221; said Marcos Camargo, president of the National Association of Federal Criminal Experts. &#8220;We are afraid that another minister with a more political and less technical bias will not follow this path.&#8221;</p> <p>Federal judges — Mr. Moro&#8217;s former colleagues — are also concerned about this morning&#8217;s resignation. Fernando Mendes, of the Association of Federal Judges, explained that they hoped Mr. Moro would propose modifications to improve the efficiency of the justice system. &#8220;As a former federal judge, he knows the system. And it’s not always that you get [a Justice Minister] who has this knowledge,&#8221; he says.</p> <p>However, in the field of Brazilian criminal law, leading voices suggest that Mr. Moro&#8217;s departure will represent nothing. &#8220;The impression is that a potential substitute will only maintain the policies of over-incarceration, incentives for firearms arms, restrictions, and setbacks to the human rights and drug policies,&#8221; said Maíra Fernandes, former president of the Rio de Janeiro Penitentiary Council. &#8220;Nothing will change in the punitive message we are already accustomed to, which believes that increasing sentences and mass incarceration are ways to solve public security problems in the country.&#8221;

 
Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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