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Bolsonaro meddling with Feds is inappropriate. But not necessarily criminal

and . May 06, 2020
Bolsonaro meddling with Feds is inappropriate. But not necessarily criminal Jair Bolsonaro inaugurates his new Federal Police Chief. Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR

On Saturday evening, after nine hours in the Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba, ten pages of testimony, and 16 takeaway pizzas, it seemed to many as if former Justice Minister Sergio Moro had handed Feds the keys that would bring down the Jair Bolsonaro government. Three days later, however, Mr. Moro’s statements were willingly leaked to the press, and it soon became clear that the bomb promised by the ex-cabinet minister would go off not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Brazil has a saying for when corruption investigations fizzle out this way, that “everything ends in pizza” — rarely has it been more literal.

</p> <p>Sergio Moro&#8217;s testimony contained much of what he had already told the press upon announcing his resignation on April 24. He explained that he disagreed with the president&#8217;s <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/04/24/sergio-moro-resigns-justice-minister-and-goes-out-swinging/">intention to fire Federal Police Chief Mauricio Valeixo</a> and accused Mr. Bolsonaro of trying to interfere politically in the functioning of the corporation.</p> <p>Crucially, however, Mr. Moro refused to state whether he was accusing President Bolsonaro of having committed any crimes, which could go some way in <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/28/jair-bolsonaro-placed-under-formal-investigation/">letting his former boss off the hook as the investigation unfolds</a>. This reticence could be explained by the fact that the ex-Justice Minister himself is also the subject of the probe, and admitting crimes committed by Mr. Bolsonaro could see Mr. Moro face trouble for malfeasance —&nbsp;or even libel, if no evidence against the president is to be found.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3553348"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/3553348-106-moro-puts-jair-in-the-corner.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-3553348&amp;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Inappropriate? Yes. Criminal? Not necessarily&nbsp;</h2> <p>Besides the general underwhelming nature of Sergio Moro&#8217;s testimony, there were some new details added to the mix of the investigation. The former Justice Minister presented an instant messaging conversation with Mr. Bolsonaro in which the president asks Mr. Moro to get rid of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/02/28/brazils-federal-police-chief-gets-sacked/">Federal Police Superintendent in Rio de Janeiro</a>.</p> <p>&#8220;Moro, you have 27 superintendents [one for each state]. I only want one, Rio de Janeiro,&#8221; said the president.</p> <p>In a bid to shield himself from suspicion, President Bolsonaro confirmed this message later on Tuesday evening. Telling the press &#8220;Rio is my state!&#8221;</p> <p>The control of the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro has been a long-term goal for Mr. Bolsonaro. It is his home state, and there are a number of investigations underway within the corporation that involve members of his family.</p> <h2>It doesn&#8217;t take a crime for impeachment</h2> <p>While members of the Federal Police and Prosecutor General&#8217;s Office classified Mr. Moro&#8217;s testimony as &#8220;weak&#8221; and unlikely to result in a criminal indictment against President Bolsonaro, there were certain points of the Justice Minister&#8217;s statements that could be construed as impeachable offenses, says Public Law professor and criminal lawyer Wellington Arruda.</p> <p>One of Mr. Moro&#8217;s claims was that Jair Bolsonaro intended to replace the Federal Police Chief due to the &#8220;failure to complete&#8221; the investigation into Adélio Bispo, the man who <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/09/06/bolsonaro-stabbed-rally/">stabbed Mr. Bolsonaro on the campaign trail in 2018</a>. Speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, Mr. Arruda said this would constitute an impeachable offense and undue meddling in the Federal Police. &#8220;He would be trying to use the institution for personal purposes,&#8221; he says. &#8220;Even though there were two reports, signed by several detectives, confirming that there was no mastermind behind the crime.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mr. Moro also mentions that he warned Army Generals Augusto Heleno, Walter Braga Netto, and Luiz Augusto Ramos — who are all members of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s cabinet — about the president&#8217;s bid to arbitrarily meddle in the Federal Police. Mr. Arruda notes that &#8220;if there is evidence the generals knew the whole story, they could be placed under investigation and accused of malfeasance.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the claim made by the ex-Justice Minister that he did not sign the executive decree dismissing Federal Police Chief Maurício Valeixo, which was published on Brazil&#8217;s official gazette including Mr. Moro&#8217;s signature. If this were the case, Mr. Bolsonaro could be prosecuted for misrepresentation on a public document.</p> <h2>Moro not squeaky clean</h2> <p>As suggested by his refusal to directly accuse the president of committing crimes, Sergio Moro could be worried about his own criminal implications in the investigation. While trying to avoid incriminating himself in malfeasance, the ex-Justice Minister may have slipped up on a number of more minor aspects of his testimony.</p> <p>At one point in the ten-page document, Mr. Moro says he informed President Bolsonaro about sensitive investigations after they began, while safeguarding the secrecy of the probes. He also claimed that this was standard practice by his predecessors at the Justice Ministry. However, Wellington Arruda points out that this could be construed as misuse of office, and defamation against former Justice Ministers.</p> <p>&#8220;Why is the president interested in the investigations if he has an entire country to manage? Mr. Moro put Federal Police information at risk,&#8221; says the lawyer.</p> <p>There is also the matter of Mr. Moro&#8217;s use of WhatsApp Messenger for relaying sensitive information. The ex-Justice Minister withheld some of his conversations from the police, claiming that they were either private, involved other authorities, or that they had been deleted.</p> <p>Criminal lawyer Antônio Carlos de Almeida Castro told <strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>that this executive value judgment made by Mr. Moro shows he was not behaving as a suspect or witness, but someone who is coordinating the investigation.</p> <p>&#8220;Imagine a client admitting to the police and prosecutors that he had destroyed part of the messages and that, from his perspective, they were not relevant. It is scandalous and humiliating,&#8221; said Mr. Castro.

 
Euan Marshall

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.”

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.

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