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Brazil court debates Lula's release, days after document leak

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Brazil's Supreme Court will debate the early release of leftist icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Tuesday, as social media rage intensified over leaked documents showing a conspiracy to keep him out of the 2018 election race.

Explosive reports published by The Intercept investigative website on Sunday also ignited calls for its American co-founder Glenn Greenwald to be deported from Brazil and for Justice Minister Sergio Moro -- who is at the center of the growing scandal over the Car Wash anticorruption investigation -- to resign.

Telegram chats provided to The Intercept show Moro -- the judge who handed Lula his first conviction in 2017, effectively ending both his election hopes and decades of center-left rule in Brazil -- improperly collaborated with Car Wash prosecutors to convict and jail the popular ex-president.

Their aim, according to The Intercept, was to prevent Lula contesting the 2018 election, which he was widely expected to win.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro -- who appointed Moro to his cabinet after taking power in January -- was the eventual winner.

Some analysts have downplayed the potential fall-out from the revelations in a country where many are fed up with corrupt leaders and strongly support the Car Wash probe that has claimed scores of political and business scalps since it began in 2014.

While Twitter has been flooded by supporters and opponents of Bolsonaro's government, there have been no significant street demonstrations over the claims of unethical behavior by Moro and the Car Wash prosecutors.

Calls for Greenwald, who was part of the team that first interviewed Edward Snowden in 2013, to be kicked out of Brazil are growing with #DeportaGreenwald widely shared on Twitter.

"There is a general appreciation of wrongdoing and that ethical boundaries were crossed, but it is unlikely to generate the same levels of indignation as other corruption scandals," said Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarape Institute think tank in Rio de Janeiro.

"All this could change if more damaging evidence emerges, as is likely."

Despite the attacks on social media, a defiant Greenwald has promised Sunday's reports were "just the very beginning."

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will review a petition for Lula's release from prison where he is serving a reduced term of eight years and 10 months after being convicted of accepting a seaside apartment as a bribe for helping the OAS construction company get lucrative deals with state oil firm Petrobras.

Lula, who led Brazil through a historic boom from 2003 to 2010, has denied all the corruption charges against him.

He has long argued they were politically motivated to prevent him from competing in the elections.

The conservative Estadao newspaper, meanwhile, has called on Moro and prosecutors involved in the leaked chats to resign, while others in the Car Wash probe should remove themselves until "everything is clear".

That follows the Brazilian Bar Association's recommendation Monday for Moro and Car Wash chief prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol to temporarily step down.

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