Brazil’s highest court now mired in unfolding political crisis

Behaviour of former judge, now minister for justice, and prosecutors called into question

Brazil's supreme court has been dragged into the crisis that has called into question the behaviour of the former judge and federal prosecutors in charge of the country's historic Car Wash anti-corruption investigation.

According to the latest leak by the Intercept website, lead Car Wash prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol apparently communicated with supreme court justice Luiz Fux during 2016 about the probe's progress, with Mr Fux offering it his support. Mr Dallagnol related this offer in a conversation over a messaging app to then federal judge Sérgio Moro, who at the time oversaw Car Wash cases and is now the country's justice minister.

The conversation with Mr Fux appears to refer to preserving the investigation from any attempt to undermine or end it by the new government installed following the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in May 2016. Various ministers in the administration of her successor, Michel Temer, were determined to neuter the investigation which exposed the vast extent of corruption by Brazil's political class.

Mr Moro responded: “Excellent. In Fux we trust.” The justice minister has not yet commented on the leak.


Added to the conversations between Mr Moro and Mr Dallagnol leaked at the weekend these latest revelations appear to provide further evidence of back-channel communication and possible collusion between Car Wash prosecutors and federal judges. Under Brazil’s legal system, judges are meant to be strictly impartial though jurists admit informal contacts between them and prosecutors are common.

Mr Moro and Mr Dallagnol have denied any wrongdoing and Car Wash supporters have sought instead to focus on the Intercept’s source. Police believe a number of judges and prosecutors were targeted by a wide-ranging hacking operation.

But critics of Car Wash, among them the defence of former former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, convicted in the first of nine corruption cases he faces by Mr Moro in 2017, say the leaks prove the investigation's illegality and are demanding his release from jail.

What will President Bolsonaro do?

President Jair Bolsonaro has expressed his continuing support for his embattled justice minister, telling reporters on Thursday: "What he did has no price . . . He showed the viscera of power, the promiscuity of power operating through corruption."

In the latest leak which was first revealed on Wednesday night Mr Dallagnol also relates how Mr Fux told him of an "arm wrestle" between his court colleague Teori Zavascki and then judge Moro which left the supreme court justice "burnt".

This seems to refer to Mr Moro’s illegal release of a phone tap of a conversation between then-president Rousseff and Lula in March 2016.

The recording indicated that Ms Rousseff’s plan to appoint Lula as her cabinet chief was not about attempting to salvage her disintegrating administration, but to provide her predecessor with immunity from possible arrest by Mr Moro.

The release of the conversation caused a furore and squashed the effort to bring Lula into cabinet. Mr Zavascki reprimanded the junior judge over his handling of the recordings, but Mr Moro managed to hold on to the Car Wash investigation.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America