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  December 6, 2017

Brazil's Corruption Scandal Ensnares Anti-Corruption Judge

New testimony in Brazil's on-going corruption investigations lays bare Judge Sergio Moro's conflict of interest and the possibility that he and his wife might have taken bribes for reducing sentences. Brian Mier of Brazil Wire reports
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Gregory Wilpert: Brazil's top anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro, who has been the driving force in uncovering the country's vast corruption, himself became ensnared in a corruption scandal. Last week, Tacla Duran, who is a lawyer for the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht testified that his defense attorney, who happens to belong to the same law firm as Judge Moro's wife, offered him a reduced sentence in exchange for $2 million. This testimony calls into question just how clean is Judge Moro's investigation of corruption in Brazil.

Brazil's corruption scandal began in March 2014 when Judge Moro prosecuted money laundering, kickbacks and bribes at the state oil company, Petrobras. Since then, the investigation and indictments have placed the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht, at the center of much of the corruption. Meanwhile, between 100 and 200 politicians, many of them senators including Eduardo Cunha, the president of the legislature's Lower House, are accused of having received millions of dollars in bribes from Odebrecht.

Last July, Former President Lula da Silva also ended up being accused and convicted as part of this wide-ranging anti-corruption drive. Lula was sentenced to nine and a half years of prison, but remains free while he's appealing the case. In the meantime, he's campaigning for the presidency again, which is scheduled to take place in late 2018.

International media have been largely silent about the latest revelations in the Lava Jato Case that implicate Sergio Moro. Once source that did report on this in English is Brian Mier for the website, Brasil Wire. He's originally from Chicago, but has lived in Brazil for 22 years and is an editor at Brasil Wire. He is also the author of the book Voices of the Brazilian Left, which is scheduled to be released on Dec. 15.

Brian Mier: He's been lionized in the Brazilian and in the Northern media for the last two years as being an impartial anti-corruption crusader. But what's come out in the last week, there have been reservations about him all along by a lot of people, because it seems like he's targeting one specific political party, the PT Party, and he's letting people off from much larger corruption charges who are involved with conservative parties like PSCB. The charges against him right now are that he's set up a scheme of selling sentence reductions to people who plea bargain as part of the Lava Jato investigation, which is looking anti-corruption in the construction industry and the petroleum industry, and his relationship with political parties, but mainly the PSDB Party.

There's a defendant in the case named Tacla Duran, who's a lawyer for Odebrecht Construction Company. Now, he was accused of money laundering and they immediately got in touch with them to make a plea bargain, because this is the way that they're gathering evidence in the case by arresting business leaders and then allowing them to plea bargain their way out of jail, if they testify mainly against ex-President Lula, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In the case of Tacla Duran, he was charged with money laundering and then the godfather, the best man of Sergio Moro and his wife's wedding, who is a partner in Sergio Moro's wife's law firm, got in touch with Duran and offered a sentence reduction in exchange for R$5 million paid under the counter. This sentence reduction would have eliminated jail time. He would have been under house arrest.

The next day, they sent the terms of the sentence reduction agreement, plea bargain agreement to Duran, and he decided not to do it because it included him having to confess to crimes he said that he didn't commit. He immediately fled to Spain and turned himself over to the Spanish government as a witness in Spanish government investigation into corruption in the Odebrecht Construction Company. Sergio Moro tried to extradite him, and the Spanish government refused because they said he didn't present any concrete evidence, whatsoever.

Last Thursday, Tacla Duran testified via videoconference to the Brazilian Congress about a corruption scandal involving the JBS Meat Packing Corporation. During his testimony, he detailed the plea bargaining invitation that Moro's wife's law partner made to him for R$5 million in cash. He accused the Lava Jato investigation of falsifying documents. He said that, for example, all of the spreadsheets and financial transaction information used in Lava Jato to implicate Odebrecht are counterfeit, and that he has the originals. He ended his testimony accusing Lava Jato investigators of creating a plea bargaining industry involving millions of dollars and hundreds of business executives.

This is very suspicious. It's suspicious because first of all, there have been some very important conservative politicians in Brazil who've been completely untouched in the Lava Jato investigation despite massive amounts of audio and video evidence, including 2014 presidential runner-up, Aécio Neves, who is caught on audio asking for $20 million in bribes from the JBS Meat Packing Company and hasn't gone to jail at all, or not even been suspended from the Senate. Also, there's photos of him laughing with Moro. Apparently they were friends, so this is troubling.

And it's also troubling when you look at the number of high-ranking corrupt businessmen who've had their sentences drastically reduced in the last few months as part of the Lava Jato investigation, which makes you think this isn't a unique case with Tacla Duran.

There's the example of one of the biggest contraband moneychangers in Brazil, Alberto Youssef. He's a millionaire. He was sentenced to 122 years in Lava Jato, and in mid-October, Sergio Moro reduced his sentence to four years of house arrest with credit for time served. There's about a dozen similar cases.

What this all comes down to is it's just more evidence that affirms what a lot of critics of Lava Jato have been saying for two years now is that it's not an impartial investigation into corruption as it's been portrayed in the New York Times, in the Washington Post and The Guardian and other papers like this. It's actually a kind of political witch-hunt designed to destroy Lula's candidacy next year in the presidential elections. The reason I say that and other people say that is because despite having all of this evidence on millions and millions of dollars in fraud, money laundering and bribery that Sergio Moro has rejected, implicating conservative candidates from the PSDB Political Party, he sentenced Lula to nine and a half years in jail, pending appeal earlier this year for apparently receiving illegal reforms on apartment. But the problem is Moro was unable to prove that Lula ever owned or set foot in this apartment.

For the last two years, he's had carte blanche in all of the media when he illegally tape-recorded phone conversations between Lula and President Dilma Rousseff at the time, and released them to the media. That was a crime that he was never punished for as well. But in the last couple of days, since these revelations have come out, it looks like some of the big media outlets are turning on him. Global, which is the largest media corporation in Latin America, published an article in their newspaper last Friday saying, "Sergio Moro's mask begins to fall," talking about these corruption allegations against him.

I certainly hope that these accusations of corruption are pursued and that he's taken off of the case, because all evidence points to their being clear conflict of interest, because of his wife, her party connections to the PSDB Party. She used to be a legal counsel to the vice governor of Parana State from PSDB Party, and the fact that none of the members of that party, who are the biggest people implicated in these corruptions scandals have ever been arrested. The poll numbers, the most recent poll came out last week, and Lula's lead in the polls continues to increase. neo fascist holdover from the military dictatorship named Jair Bolsonaro.

The fact that these corruption allegations have come out against his judge and prosecutor, Sergio Moro, seems to bode well for his candidacy next year; except that the day after the scandal broke, Moro announced new charges against Lula, which like the last charges don't seem to have any concrete evidence. But the media is trying to block his candidacy, so it's still up in the air. We don't know what's really going to happen next.

It's a stressful moment in Brazil because it seems like after Dilma Rousseff was illegally removed from power in 2016, we're living in a state of exception where the rule of law doesn't really matter anymore. And so I think there's a general feeling that regardless of whether he's guilty or innocent, they'll find some way to prevent him from running. And if they can't prevent him from running, maybe try to kill him, because the Supreme Court Justice in charge of the Lava Jato investigation died in a mysterious plane crash the day before he was going to release the results of the investigation. In the last elections, presidential candidate Eduardo Campos died in another plane crash two weeks before the election, propelling Marina da Silva to be a candidate, who is favored by a lot of sections of the northern elite as well.

I think that there's a general feeling of worry right now that first, Lula won't be allowed to run, and second, if he's allowed to run, they'll just cancel the elections and change it to parliamentary elections, indirect elections like they had in 1985.


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