Brazil court rules Car Wash judge was biased in Lula case

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Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrives to give a press conference at the Metalworkers Union headquarters in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Sao Paulo state, Brazil, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, after a judge threw out both of his corruption convictions. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that former judge Sergio Moro was biased in the way he oversaw former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s corruption trial, providing vindication for the leftist leader who has long claimed political persecution.

The decision further darkens the shadow over the reputation of Moro and the sweeping Car Wash corruption investigation he presided over for years. He sentenced hundreds of business and political leaders previously believed to enjoy impunity, and transformed himself into one of the Brazil’s best-known public figures. Some hailed him as a hero while others accused him of being a zealot.

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“In this case what is discussed is something that for me is key: everyone has the right to a fair trial, due legal process, and the impartiality of the judge,” said Justice Carmen Lucia, who cast the tie-breaking vote.

Leaked messages published by The Intercept Brasil in 2019 showed apparent collusion between Moro and Car Wash prosecutors during the process that ultimately jailed da Silva for corruption and money laundering. His conviction on appeal sidelined him from the 2018 presidential elections, pursuant to the rules of Brazil’s Clean Slate law, and allowed fringe lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro to cruise to victory. Moro quickly became Bolsonaro’s justice minister.

Tuesday’s ruling follows a separate decision from Justice Edson Fachin on March 8 to annul da Silva’s two convictions, on the grounds that he was tried in a court without proper jurisdiction, and establishing that he could be retried in federal court in capital Brasilia.

Da Silva’s attorneys, Cristiano Zanin Martins and Valeska Martins, said in a statement that the decision was “historic and reinvigorating.”

“We proved that Moro never acted as a judge, but as a personal and political adversary of former President Lula,” they said. Da Silva is universally known as Lula in Brazil. “We suffered all sorts of illegalities in the Car Wash, some of them described in the ruling that recognized the bias of the former judge, such as the illegal monitoring of our phones so members of the investigation could follow the defense strategy in real time.”

While the decision earlier this month cleared the way for da Silva to face off against Bolsonaro in 2022 elections, it was also interpreted by legal experts as a means to head off a ruling on allegations of Moro’s bias, and in so doing preserve the convictions and credibility of Car Wash. Another justice called for a vote on the pending matter regardless.

With their 3-2 decision on Tuesday, the justices prohibited evidence gathered in the Car Wash probe about da Silva’s alleged ownership of a triplex in the beach town of Guaruja from being used in any eventual trial. The justices didn’t rule whether evidence gathered previously could be used when retrying da Silva’s other conviction, or in his other two unresolved criminal cases.

Michael Mohallem, coordinator of the Justice Center of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said the ruling brings any corruption proceedings against da Silva back to square one, and solidifies his 2022 candidacy. But it also provides a glimmer of hope for others who have been jailed.

“Lula will be able to say he was persecuted by a judge who wanted to convict him. For the political campaign, that’s very valuable,” Mohallem added. “The fear is that many inmates will present cases to annul their sentences. The ruling opens that discussion.”

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