Brazil's Moro says victim of 'revenge' for corruption drive

Brasília (AFP) –


Brazil's justice minister hit back Wednesday at allegations he conspired to keep jailed leftist icon Luis Inacio Lula da Silva out of the 2018 presidential race, saying he was the victim of "revenge" over his anti-corruption drive.

Sergio Moro, the powerful judge behind the so-called Car Wash probe that rocked Brazilian politics, denied "any kind of ethical deviation" when he testified before a Senate committee.

He said a criminal organization was behind alleged leaks of text messages to The Intercept investigative website, which published text messages purportedly showing Moro conspiring with Car Wash prosecutors to keep Lula out of the election.

Blasting the report as "sensationalist," Moro said a criminal gang had hacked cell phones "with the aim of overturning convictions for corruption or money laundering."

Moro told the Senate's Constitution and Justice Committee he "does not recognize the authenticity of the messages" attributed to him, which he said "may have been partially or completely altered."

"I thought that coming out of the magistrature and assuming a ministerial position, that revenge -- attacks on my job as a judge that faced up to corruption by applying the law -- would end, but apparently I was wrong."

The judge who won fame when he oversaw Brazil's vast Car Wash probe that upended the country's politics by uncovering large-scale looting of state oil company Petrobras, has faced calls to step down over the report.

Lula was favorite to win the election before he was jailed by Moro for taking bribes and money laundering. Moro subsequently became justice minister after the triumph of eventual winner Jair Bolsonaro.

Moro, a hero to many Brazilians fed up with corruption, has remained defiant since The Intercept published the first tranche of what it said was an "enormous trove" of documents earlier this month.

In the leaked group chats, Car Wash prosecutors expressed "serious doubts" over the evidence against Lula and spoke openly of wanting to prevent his Workers' Party from winning the 2018 presidential election that Lula was widely expected to win.

Moro repeatedly "overstepped the ethical lines that define the role of a judge" by offering prosecutors advice and tips for "new avenues of investigation," The Intercept said.

But Moro told the Senate that in the Brazilian justice system -- where the investigating magistrate also later sits as a judge in the case -- "it is not unusual for a judge to have conversations with a lawyer, a prosecutor, or the police."