Tony Burke: Brazil’s ‘Car Wash’ corruption investigation is a white-wash

The imprisonment of progressive former President Lula da Silva has been exposed as politically motivated.

The revelations uncovered about the stitch up case against former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, jailed in April last year, vindicate a year of campaigning for his freedom. But this isn’t just about Lula, the consequences of this miscarriage of justice are huge. 

This week, The Intercept published a range of documents that show Lula’s conviction was politically motivated and aimed at stopping him running in the 2018 presidential election. With front-runner Lula out of the race, he was polling over double of his election rivals at the time of his arrest, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro went on to win the election. Lula’s prosecuting Judge Sergio Moro was then appointed Minister of Justice. 

Lula was convicted for ‘indeterminate acts of corruption’ and accused of receiving an apartment in the form of a bribe. The investigation was part of a sweeping corruption probe called the Car Wash (Lavo Jato) Operation that caused a huge political uproar in Brazil. It claimed to be neutral, with its leading star Judge Sergio Moro claimed to be uninterested in politics. 

The investigation was hailed by the national and international media, and Moro was even named in the Time 100 list. 

At the time of Lula’s arrest, myself and others made it clear that the investigation against him was an abuse of the judicial system – illegal wiretaps on his family and legal team, lack of material evidence, and evidence of his innocence were systematically ignored – and this is now indisputable.

The released documents show that Judge Moro acted with blatant disregard for the basic principles of neutrality, justice and fairness. While claiming to be acting impartially, as preceding Judges in any legal system around the world must, Moro was designing the very charges he was supposed to be ruling over. 

Moro was communicating with, and directed, leading prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol while publicly claiming the opposite. These explosive files have even shown that the prosecution didn’t think there was enough evidence to convict Lula but they pushed ahead anyway. And why not?  They clearly knew that the overseeing Judge wanted to convict him. 

You don’t need a legal background to see that this is an abuse of the justice system for political ends. As The Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald has said, this is “a complete and undeniable violation of every ethical rule of what a judge can do.”

Not only were the investigators attempting to discredit Lula, these documents show that they wanted to destroy the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), and the huge progressive gains they made in poverty reduction, social mobility and other areas, ensuring that the right-wing returned to political dominance in the process. 

Evidence of this includes files showing the prosecuting team working to stop Lula giving interviews from prison in case it helped the chances of Fernando Haddad, Lula’s replacement candidate, in the presidential election. 

The ramifications of this now disgraced investigation have been huge. Bolsonaro and the far-right rode to power on the back of Lula’s removal from the political process and the anti-PT sentiment fostered by Judge Moro.

With Bolsonaro’s rise to prominence has come a rise in hate, attacks on the LGBT community, attacks on indigenous peoples, illegal deforestation, police killings and open racism. His political agenda has been one of privatisation, slashing budgets and dismantling the education system, social welfare and environmental protections.

Brazil now has a President who doesn’t believe in climate change, (his ministers even believe that it’s a ‘Marxist Plot’) despite being in charge of one of the most important ecological areas of the planet. 

The increasingly authoritarian President, like Trump, is another powerful figure in the global far-right. It is all the more worrying that with blanket praise and uncritical analysis of Judge Moro’s actions, respected institutions across the globe have facilitated his ascension to power.

This case hasn’t just affected Lula’s freedom or the democratic right of 200 million Brazilians. The example he sets for aspiring far-right authoritarians, wherever they may be, affects all of us.

The only response from Brazil’s right has been outright denial and personal attacks on the journalists involved. In a climate where progressive councilwomen and human rights campaigner Marielle Franco was politically assassinated last year, we need to take this fight seriously, and stand strong with those in the defence of democracy. 

These revelations could be a ‘Watergate’ moment for Brazil. Trade unionists and progressives in Britain must continue to push for Lula’s freedom, and show that the consequences of this investigation have been far-reaching and must not be ignored.

Tony Burke is the Assistant General Secretary of Unite and Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative.

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8 Responses to “Tony Burke: Brazil’s ‘Car Wash’ corruption investigation is a white-wash”

  1. Dave Roberts

    Of course it was politically motivated just as Andrew Gilligan’s exposes of the Lee Jasper frauds that brought down Ken Livingstone we politically motivated. The point however is whether, like the Jasper affair, Lula was guilty.

  2. Janet Marks

    “At the time of Lula’s arrest, myself and others made it clear that the investigation against him was an abuse of the judicial system – illegal wiretaps on his family and legal team, lack of material evidence, and evidence of his innocence were systematically ignored – and this is now indisputable.” This writer obviously thinks that Lula is innocent. How can he prove it from his prison cell?

  3. Chester Draws

    Yes, we know it was politically motivated. That is different from being untrue. Please don’t conflate the two.

    The Obama administration wire-tapped Trump’s operation. Evidence was fabricated to indict him. The Democrats ignore an investigation that found no evidence of the charges. The lead investigator was clearly not impartial.

    I hope you come out against this abuse of a democratically elected official.

    The increasingly authoritarian President, like Trump, is another powerful figure in the global far-right.

    Really? Trump is “far-right”? The man was a Democrat for most of his life. He takes no positions that weren’t held by Democrats until recently.

    You guys are losing it.

  4. Tom Sacold

    When I was growing up there seemed to be a coup in one or another South American country almost every other week.

    They were so popular even Woody Allen made a film about it. That was in Allen’s pre-Bergman slapstick period.

  5. Dave Roberts

    Simon Woolley is a thief.


    That is an interesting bonus for win.

  7. Patrick Newman

    The far and alt Right are not noted for their commitment to honesty and democracy!

  8. Carlos Figueiredo

    I am so surprise how this article is so “impartially”lol . Brazil is sinking in corruption for years , our democracy was broken , minority issues were used to cover the biggest corruption that Brazil has had , this article lies in a lot topics

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