Brazil's justice minister has been accused of co-ordinating with prosecutors when he was a judge in the case that led to the conviction and jailing of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
There have been calls for an investigation following the publication of articles by online news magazine The Intercept that revealed private messages between Sergio Moro and the task force of the so-called Operation Car Wash.
One case in the wide-ranging corruption probe resulted in Lula being jailed in April 2018 and banned from running for president again in October’s election, a race that opinion polls had indicated he would have won.
Dozens of other politicians and top business executives have also been imprisoned as a result of the Car Wash investigation, which was led by Mr Moro, who is now justice minister.
Mr Moro has denied any wrongdoing, telling reporters on Monday: “There is no orientation in those messages.”
He added that he could not confirm if the published messages were real because he had not saved them.
The Brazilian Bar Association has called for Mr Moro and all the prosecutors involved to be suspended “so that the investigation can run without any suspicions”.
Octavio Rego Barros, spokesman for president Jair Bolsonaro, told reporters that the leader planned to meet with Mr Moro on Tuesday to discuss the leaked messages.
The federal prosecutor’s office confirmed on Sunday that messages had been hacked from the phones of some prosecutors involved in the Car Wash investigation, though it did not address the accuracy of the published messages.
On Monday, the office said that since April, federal prosecutors have been targeted by hackers who have been cloning their mobile phones.
Mr Moro said in a statement late on Sunday that he “lamented” that the Intercept stories used an anonymous source.
He called the reports “sensationalist”, saying the messages did not represent any abnormality or show any direction by him of co-ordinating with prosecutors.
Delton Dallagnol, the lead Car Wash prosecutor, posted a video to social media saying that it is normal for judges, prosecutors and lawyers to speak to each other.
Joao Paulo de Martinelli, a criminal lawyer and professor at the Institute of Public Law of Sao Paulo, said the messages could open a path for lawyers to petition the supreme court to throw out the conviction of Lula.
“If these messages are proven to be true, there was partiality from the judge in Lula’s conviction. A judge driving the prosecution is a grave violation of the constitution and of human rights,” Mr de Martinelli said.
Analysts at the Eurasia Group said the Intercept reports will "have important political ripple effects", especially for Mr Moro, but are unlikely to affect Mr Bolsonaro's economic reform agenda.
The group said the reports call into questions the contention by Car Wash prosecutors that the anti-corruption investigation was not partisan.
Lula has strongly professed his innocence and contends he was targeted for political reasons.
Mr Moro became a hero for many Brazilians because of his role as the lead federal judge in charge of the Operation Car Wash.
"If there's talk of annulling the [Lula] conviction, we will see a strong social backlash," said Luiz Claudio Araujo, a law professor at Ibmec University. "A lot of people defend Operation Car Wash." – AP