New evidence shows how the U.S.-coached judge and presidential hopeful Sergio Moro fabricated a media scandal on the brink of the 2014 election designed to bring down the incumbent president Dilma Rousseff. It is yet further evidence that Operation Lava Jato, which he now admits he commanded, was a political weapon from the outset, and one which was working on behalf of the U.S. Government and its Corporate interests.
It was nothing less than U.S. interference in yet another foreign election. And it failed…but not for long.
Since its creation in September 2014, BRASILWIRE has reported extensively, and often alone in the anglosphere, on U.S. support for the soft coup against Dilma Rousseff, imprisonment of Lula da Silva, and resulting election of Bolsonaro. Whilst the latter gained eventual (but limited) wider acknowledgement, the documented U.S. role in Brazil’s democratic collapse is still an absolute taboo amongst mainstream U.S. reporters in Brazil, even those purporting to be dissident investigative journalists.
Operation Lava Jato, assisted by the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, and other U.S. Government agencies, was central to successive phases of an anti-democratic coup which resulted in a U.S.-aligned, far-right, military-dominated government controlling Brazil. These are incontrovertible facts.
Working backwards, we see Sergio Moro’s jailing of Lula, and overturning of his release which prevented him definitively from running and likely winning the 2018 election opened the door for a Bolsonaro victory. Moro was awarded with a ministerial position in Bolsonaro’s first government, and Lava Jato prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol notoriously called Lula’s imprisonment “a gift from the CIA“. In 2016 it was Moro’s illegally wiretapped and carefully edited conversations between then President Rousseff and Lula which created the media furore that consolidated support for her impeachment in Congress.
Swing the Election
But it is a crucial earlier episode, one which is often overlooked, that has now returned to the fore: Moro’s earlier interference in the 2014 election. it was an election that just over a year before had looked like a certain Rousseff victory.
Operation Lava Jato was then only six months old, was being hyped relentlessly in both Brazilian and anglophone media, and was already being conducted under the tutelage of U.S. agents.
Curitiba Judge Moro was being depicted as a hero, with his reputation as someone who would take down Lula and the Workers Party already dating back almost a decade. In 2006, conservative journalist and TV host Luiz Carlos Alborghetti predicted that Moro, then largely unknown, would be the man who would ultimately imprison them.
Moro’s coaching by U.S. DoJ, on how to “take down a King“, can also be traced back to that period, over a decade before Bolsonaro was elected. Names of U.S. agents working with Moro and the Lava Jato taskforce were reported by Agencia Publica and other outlets.
With Moro now attempting his own presidential run, the latest revelation centres around an already infamous cover of Veja magazine, published on October 23, 2014, three days before the second round runoff between Dilma Rousseff and U.S.-backed neoliberal Aécio Neves. That cover is emblematic of the coup attempt then already in motion.
As Brasil Wire reported in August 2015: “Last week, ex-president Lula filed a libel lawsuit against Veja for using hearsay to accuse him of taking bribes from Odebrecht construction company. The article was accompanied with a characteristic Veja cover photo of Lula frowning in the shadows. Last October, Veja was tried for electoral fraud and forced to immediately remove any online reference to a special edition released on the eve the Presidential elections that erroneously accused Dilma Rousseff and Lula of direct involvement in scandal involving the state Petroleum company.”
The timing of the Veja cover was already deeply suspicious, and the leaking of information to the press intended to impact the election result had seen Moro’s impartiality questioned since 2014.
But new evidence of how, coached by U.S. agents, and commanded by Moro, Lava Jato prosecutors and allies in the Public Prosecutor’s Office and Federal Police actually fabricated a scandal, designed to alter the course of the election, using a loyalist conservative media partner for maximum impact, right before the second round runoff.
Reporting in ConJur, journalist Márcio Chaer explains how the 2014 election episode transpired: “The second round fell on a Sunday. The day before, the bombshell news, spread on billboards erected throughout the country, reported that “money changer Alberto Youssef, cashier of the corruption scheme at Petrobras, revealed to the Federal Police and the Federal Public Ministry, last Tuesday (the 21st), that Lula and Dilma Rousseff were aware of the dark transactions in the state company”. “They knew everything,” insisted the explosive headline.”
It is now known that a few lines of the “testimony” — in fact, an “addition” of a denunciation that did not yet exist — were fabricated to make the report viable. The proof of this is in a video of Youssef’s testimony, with Federal Police Delegates, Lava Jato prosecutors and a regional judge, Moro, investigating a President of the Republic on the eve of her re-election.
Moro himself commanded the preliminary hearing, despite the case being already under jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
Moro then leaked Youssef’s doctored testimony to Veja, including the fabricated segment about Lula and Dilma, knowing that after the election the now deceased Supreme Court Minister and Lava Jato rapporteur Teori Zavascki would not include it in the final evidence.
It didn’t matter, the electoral damage to Dilma would be done, and such was the impact of the Veja story that it would be taken as fact. It was central to the defeated Neves’ call for his supporters to reject the election result, and persisted right through the campaign to impeach her, even to the present day.
The media spectacle was staged by Federal Police delegate Márcio Anselmo and by prosecutors Diogo Castor de Mattos and Roberto Pozzobom, under the direction of Sergio Moro. Conversations between the delegates celebrating the Veja cover were later leaked by hacker Walter Delgatti.
New clarity on the episode is key to understanding what happened both before and after, and the level of media complicity. Alberto Youssef, imprisoned for more than seven months, was in poor health. He was allowed to be hospitalised only after agreeing to the testimony against the PT. Veja magazine reproduced Moro’s “addition” to Youssef’s testimony:
“Asked about the level of commitment of authorities in the corruption scheme at Petrobras, the money changer was emphatic:
-The Planalto knew everything!
-But who at the Planalto? …
-Lula and Dilma, replied the money changer.”
Youssef had said no such thing, and Sérgio Moro had no authority to, but he was the one who articulated the testimony, in contact with lawyers, the police and the MPF. It was under pressure from Moro that the money changer was taken to testify. In the United States, this is called “corrupt legal practice.” Youssef was also prohibited from citing authorities with jurisdiction in Brasília so that the case would not “escape” Curitiba, which had been identified in a 2008 US State Department cable as one of several ideal host cities for what would become Operation Lava Jato.
Petrobras manager, Pedro Barusco, has always insisted that he has received bribes at the company since the 1990s. But, under instruction from attorneys, only declared bribes received from 2003 onwards, because he was advised that Lava Jato did not cover previous periods. In other words, the target was the PT governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff.
This erasure of a corruption scheme’s origins, which long pre-dated Lula’s election, was reflected in Lava Jato loyalist media not just nationally, in Veja and Globo, but in the anglosphere. This was exposed in mid 2015, through Reuters ‘podemos tirar se achar melhor‘ (we can take this out if you think best) controversy. Then Brazil Reuters correspondent Brian Winter and bureau chief Todd Benson were implicated upon discovery that former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s admission, that the so called Petrolão corruption scheme already existed under his government, had been censored, as it contradicted the narrative being built that the PT was uniquely corrupt and responsible for the scandal. Winter had previously ghostwritten Cardoso’s autobiography, and following the incident, left Reuters to become vice president of policy at Council of the Americas, the lobby representing U.S. oil, banking and other business interests invested in Rousseff’s downfall, and the organisation began relentlessly promoting Sergio Moro and Operation Lava Jato. Benson left his post for Google Brazil, which itself helped foment the new right-wing political forces then already campaigning for Rousseff’s overthrow. An influential pair in international media circles, there was little anglophone coverage or investigation of the incident at all.
Márcio Chaer concludes: “Youssef never admitted to his lawyers knowing anything about the Planalto Palace. What he always reported was that the conversations about money with the PT took place through the former deputy José Janene, who, in turn, was related to Paulo Roberto da Costa. There is not a single record that Alberto Youssef has made any reference to Dilma or Lula, outside the testimony created by Sérgio Moro.”
Further exposure of Moro’s anti-democratic actions in Lava Jato’s first year kills off once and for all a persistent myth that the anti-corruption operation began with good intentions and “lost its way” and “over reached”, or the misleading narrative prevalent on the pro-Lava Jato left during Dilma’s impeachment, namely that her removal was actually designed to shut down Lava Jato, despite it being central to the plot against her on various fronts: economic, mediatic and judicial.
The 2014 episode was by and large forgotten in Brazil’s tumult since, but it integral to the story, no less important, and demonstrates how media spectacle and the whitewashing of Lava Jato, which continued until Bolsonaro was president, were central to its success in dismantling a successful, sovereign left-wing government, in what had been the world’s 6th largest economy.