Thousands protest in Brazil in support of justice minister

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Thousands protested in Brazil on Sunday in support of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who is battling claims he conspired with prosecutors on his anti-corruption drive to keep former leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva from another presidential run.

Moro, who was a powerful judge before joining President Jair Bolsonaro's cabinet in January, has faced calls for his resignation over leaked chats purportedly showing he worked with prosecutors in the so-called Car Wash probe to keep Lula, a popular leftist, out of the 2018 presidential race.

Demonstrators took to the streets in Brazil's main cities, including the capital Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, to show their support for Moro, who is considered a hero by many Brazilians fed up with corrupt leaders.

In the latest messages published by The Intercept investigative website, prosecutors expressed concern that Moro had a personal and political agenda in the probe and were unhappy over his appointment to the far-right government, which they feared would undermine the credibility of the probe.

Moro has questioned the authenticity of the leaked chats and dismissed claims that he had been biased in the Car Wash cases.

He recently told a Senate committee that he had been the victim of "revenge" over his anti-corruption efforts.

No one has been untouchable in the Car Wash probe, which began in 2014 and upended Brazilian politics by uncovering large-scale looting of state oil company Petrobras.

Scores of top players across the political spectrum as well as business figures have been taken down.

But critics say Moro -- who handed Lula his first conviction for taking bribes and money laundering in 2017, effectively ending both his election hopes and decades of center-left rule in Brazil -- targeted the former president and his popular Workers' Party (PT) most of all.

The Supreme Court last week postponed debate on whether Moro had been impartial.

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 2018 election that was ultimately won by Bolsonaro.