Moro, Lula and the consolidation of the Coup

By Fernando Horta.

After helping Aécio Neves and Michel Temer avoid conviction, Judge Sergio Moro uses shaky evidence to prevent Ex-president Lula’s candidacy on the day that the Brazilian Senate wipes 70 years of labor rights gains off the board. 

On Wednesday, July 12, Judge Sergio Moro sentenced ex-president Lula to serve 9.5 years in jail for passive corruption and money laundering. The judgment is 238 pages long but only 24 of them deal with material proof. The majority of Moro’s argument is based on inadmissible plea bargains (134 pages) other testimony and conservative newspaper articles.  Throughout the entire document, from beginning to end, the judge repeatedly affirms that he is impartial and his judgment is based on “facts” and “laws”, but it is logically inconsistent. The judgment appears to have been timed to release at the same moment that most of Brazilians labor rights were wiped off the board by the Senate, in a major retrogression for the Brazilian working class, effectively pushing that story out of the  news headlines.

None of the material proof raised is conclusive or even minimally indicates any type of crime.  In 2004 or 2005 Marisa Letícia (Lula’s wife) bought interest in an apartment that was still under construction. This was perfectly legal.  Judge Moro built a case arguing that the apartment that Lula was supposed to have received is larger (215m2) and more expensive than the money he had paid. The problem with his case, which Moro himself acknowledges, is that the apartment was never used, purchased or even registered in Lula’s name. So there was a tremendous amount of time and discursive energy trying prove the apartment belongs to  Lula. Almost all evidence lacks substance. Furthermore, the plea bargains – made by people threatened with huge prison sentences – cannot be accepted as proof according to Brazilian law.

Within the body of the judgment, Moro criminalizes Lula’s nomination of Petrobras  directors implying that they were made to maintain or even enhance corruption in the Brazilian oil giant firm. Moro accuses Lula of approving some directors in order to receive illegal benefits. The problem with his argument is that there is no evidence for it, outside of a former director’s plea bargain- inadmissible in a court of law. According to Moro, Lula  received around US$950 thousand dollars in this operation. This is not a viable figure for the “Supreme Chief” of a corruption scheme  in which some directors allegedly received over US$98 million dollars in bribes.

The evidence is thin and the demonstrated causal relations are even thinner. In terms of physical evidence, Moro presented blank, unsigned contracts and a few vague, taped cellphone conversations about reforms on the apartment. The taped conversations were made from OAS construction company CEO Leo Pinheiro’s phone calls with his employees. None of the taped conversation mention Lula or his wife.  Moreover, the unsigned contract Moro presented  refers to different apartment. The apartment that Moro argues that  Ms. Marisa Letícia tried to purchase, according to judge Moro,  is number 141, and the one that he says they  owned  is number 164, which is larger and more expansive. But no commercial transaction was ever made.

Lula’s defense lawyer says that Moro only addresses the arguments for the defense on five brief instances within his 238-page judgement. Cristiano Zanin, the head of Lula’s legal defense team denounced Moro for using “lawfare” to unfairly target Lula.  He presented his accusations in international courts and believes that the sentence itself is effective proof against Judge Moro.

Lula has the right to appeal, and there is a still long way ahead in the Brazilian judicial system before this sentence would be able to come into effect.   Some important lawyers and professors have said that the final decision could take a year and a half.  This is very important because the next presidential elections are scheduled for October 2018. Due to Brazilian electoral law, if the final decision about Lula’s case does not come before April 2018, Lula, currently leading all polls,  would be barred from running for president. Judge Moro, who is constantly photographed with opposition politicians like Aécio Neves (who was recently reinstated in the Senate despite being caught on audio and video soliciting millions of dollars in bribes and threatening to kill a witness), also tried to ban Lula from running for office for  18 years.   In his judgment,  Moro rights that he could ask for Lula’s  immediate imprisonment but that he won’t do this to avoid “social and political trauma”. In the last paragraph, Judge Moro said he is not “personally happy” to  sentence an ex-president to jail, but you get the feeling that he was smiling while he wrote it.


By Fernando Horta

PhD in History of International Relations at the University of Brasília (UNB). Denver University Visiting Scholar.