BRASILIA – Brazil’s justice and public safety minister Alexandre de Moraes, who was nominated by President Michel Temer for a seat on the Supreme Court, denied on Tuesday before a Senate commission that “I have or have ever had” ties with the mafia that operates throughout the nation’s prison system.
De Moraes, appearing before the Senate commission charged with evaluating his Supreme Court candidacy, was questioned about his alleged connection with the so-called First Capital Command (PCC), a criminal organization whose tentacles have extended from the prisons where it started to almost the entire Brazilian penitentiary system and into the streets.
The PCC was one of the mobs responsible for the wave of violence that broke out early this year in a number of prisons as a result of power struggles with other groups seeking control of the correctional facilities.
Stories about the minister’s alleged connections with the PCC originated when, as an attorney, he defended in court a transport company suspected of being involved in laundering money produced by the mafia’s criminal activities.
“I was never an attorney for the PCC,” De Moraes said, adding that his law office has “innumerable clients” and among them was that transport company, which his office defended solely in a case related to “compensation for a traffic accident.”
The minister attributed the rumors to a “campaign” against him that did the rounds on social media in late 2014, when he was named public safety secretary for Sao Paulo state.
“The transport company and the PCC were both investigated, but no relationship with me was proved, and a court ordered the removal from all social networks the inventions relating my law office to that criminal group,” De Moraes said.
President Temer had proposed that the minister fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the Jan. 19 plane crash that resulted in the death of Judge Teori Zavascki, who until then had led investigations into the ring of corruption operating in the state-run oil company Petrobras.
Dozens of politicians were implicated in that web of corruption, many of them in the ruling party, while suspicions even exist that some current ministers of the Temer government were involved, which is now causing problems for the president himself.
For that reason the opposition has denounced the minister’s candidacy as an attempt by the government to directly influence the Supreme Court and interfere with the investigations, which both President Temer and De Moraes totally deny.
The minister’s candidacy must be endorsed by the Senate Constitution and Justice Commission, presided over by legislator Edison Lobao, himself investigated by the Supreme Court in the Petrobras case, and must then be approved by a plenary session of that chamber, which among its 81 members has 44 suspected of being involved in corrupt practices.