SAO PAULO – Imprisoned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is surprised by the speed with which indications of possible misconduct by the judge who put him behind bars in April 2018 have come to light, his lawyers said Tuesday after visiting him at a jail in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba.
On Sunday, The Intercept, an online news outlet, published the contents of private communications among prosecutors and Sergio Moro, the judge who convicted Lula on corruption charges.
Moro oversaw the sprawling probe known as “Lava Jato” (Car Wash), which centered on a $2 billion corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
Messages exchanged between Moro and prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol via the Telegram app show that the judge was deeply involved in shaping the prosecution strategy against Lula, 73.
“The president was surprised, firstly, by the speed with which the truth was revealed and, secondly, by the elevated level of promiscuity in the dialogues between the person who judges and the person who accuses,” defense attorney Jose Roberto Batochio told reporters outside the jail in Curitiba.
Another member of Lula’s legal team, Cristiano Zanin Martins, said he and his colleagues will use the conversations to buttress their case for overturning the former president’s conviction.
The team expects Brazil’s Supreme Court to rule on the habeas corpus motions already filed questioning the impartiality of the trial, the attorney said.
“The material already divulged reinforces what always was said: the judge acted as coordinator of the accusation and rendered a verdict on the accusation which he himself helped build,” Martins said.
Lula, who denies any wrongdoing, was found guilty by Moro in 2017 of accepting bribes from construction company OAS in the form of renovations to a seaside condo that the former two-term president never owned or occupied.
The conviction was upheld on appeal and he has been incarcerated for the last 16 months, which led to his being barred from the 2018 presidential election amid polls showing that he would have won by a wide margin.
The ex-head of state also was convicted by federal Judge Gabriela Hardt in another corruption case in February of this year and sentenced to 12 years and 11 months behind bars.
In that second case, the former president was found to have illegally benefited from property renovations carried out by construction companies that received inflated contracts from Petrobras during Lula’s 2003-2011 tenure.
Again, Lula never owned the property in question.
Lula’s exclusion from the 2018 election paved the way for Jair Bolsonaro – a professed admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime – to win the presidency.
One of Bolsonaro’s first Cabinet appointments was naming Moro to head the Justice Ministry, which in turn received expanded powers.
Moro has sought to diminish the importance of the messages published Sunday by The Intercept.
“There is no sign of any abnormality or providing directions as a magistrate, despite being taken out of context and the sensationalism of the articles, they ignore the gigantic corruption scheme revealed by Operation Car Wash,” he said in a statement.
But Right of Defense, an association of criminal lawyers, said the law is clear that a judge may not decide a case if he or she “has advised any of the parties.”
Reviewing every verdict handed down by Moro “is indispensable to placing Brazilian justice back on the path of legality,” the group said.