SAO PAULO - Brazilian federal prosecutors on Tuesday accused seven people, including prominent American journalist Glenn Greenwald, of various cybercrimes related to leaked cellphone text messages that cast doubt on the impartiality of a massive corruption probe.
Although the Federal Police decided not to bring charges against Greenwald over this matter, the federal prosecutors said they have filed a criminal complaint against the co-founder of online news site The Intercept for directly assisting, encouraging and guiding the hackers who leaked social media messages exchanged by different authorities, including a former judge who is now Brazil's justice minister, Sergio Moro,
The federal prosecutors said the charges against Greenwald - who lives in Brazil with his Brazilian husband - and the other six suspects include criminal association, money laundering and illegal phone wiretapping.
In December, the Federal Police filed charges against six suspects for allegedly hacking the cellphones of various officials, including Moro and some prosecutors involved in the Car Wash anti-corruption investigation.
Last June, The Intercept's Brazilian version, The Intercept Brasil, published a series of articles based on those leaked conversations.
Those articles revealed that the then-federal judge was deeply involved in shaping the prosecutors' strategy in a corruption case against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Prosecutors did not dispute the authenticity of the material, which shows, in the words of The Intercept, "that Moro secretly and unethically collaborated with the Car Wash prosecutors to help design the case against Lula despite serious internal doubts about the evidence supporting the accusations, only for him to then pretend to be its neutral adjudicator."
In July 2017, Moro found Lula guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for helping Brazilian construction company OAS obtain lucrative contracts from state oil company Petrobras and sentenced him to nearly 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the bribes took the form of renovations to a seaside condo that the former two-term president never owned or occupied. Lula was released from prison last year following a Supreme Court ruling, although his legal troubles are not over.
Amid the scandal triggered by The Intercept Brasil's reporting, Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes issued an order last year barring police from investigating Greenwald over the alleged cybercrimes.
But the federal prosecutors say that during their investigations they found an audio recording in which Greenwald can be heard talking to one of the hackers and guiding their work.
In a statement, Greenwald responded to the criminal complaint by saying it is "an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and (President Jair Bolsonaro's) government."
"It is also on an attack on the Brazilian Supreme Court, which ruled in July that I am entitled to have my press freedom protected," he said.
"We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists. I am working right now on new reporting and will continue to do so."
In the criminal complaint, prosecutor Wellington Divino de Oliveira said the audio recording shows that Greenwald "went beyond" his journalistic duty to uncover official corruption.
He said the journalist instructed the hackers about actions they could take to "hinder the investigations and reduce the possibility of criminal responsibility."
The prosecutors said they have found proof of 126 call interceptions and 176 invasions of computer devices.
Authorities allege that the crimes of the group of hackers included bank fraud and may have affected as many as 1,000 people.
The initial conviction of Lula in the OAS case overseen by Moro was upheld on appeal, leading to his being barred from the 2018 presidential election amid polls showing that he would have won by a wide margin.
Lula's exclusion paved the way for the rightist Bolsonaro - a professed admirer of Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime - to win the presidency. One of his first Cabinet appointments was naming Moro to head the Justice Ministry.
Moro has insisted that his handling of the case was above reproach.