A man walks past a billboard reading "Free Lula" during the students protest against cuts to federal spending on higher education planned by Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro's right-wing government, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares
Supporters of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva claim the case against him was politcally motivated © Reuters

Lawyers for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the jailed former Brazil president, have called for his release following the publication of leaked messages that appeared to show co-operation between prosecutors and the judge who put him in prison.

“There is no question the procedures against former President Lula are tainted by extremely serious issues when it comes to violations of fundamental guarantees and denial of one’s rights,” said lawyers for the former president, who served between 2003 and 2010. He was imprisoned last year as part of the sprawling Lava Jato, or Car Wash, anti-corruption probe

Late Sunday, left-leaning media group The Intercept published leaked messages between the federal prosecutors investigating Lula and Sergio Moro, the judge who oversaw the trial and now serves as justice minister in the administration of rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro.

The revelations are likely to deepen the polarisation of Brazilian politics just months after a contentious presidential election. Supporters of the once popular former leader believe his arrest and imprisonment was driven by political motives to prevent him running for the presidency last year.

The developments also risk compromising the reputation of the Car Wash investigation, which since 2013 has implicated scores of business people and politicians in a vast contracts-for-kickbacks scheme involving corporate giants Petrobras and Odebrecht.

In March, Michel Temer, who served as president between 2016 and 2018, became the latest high-profile figure to be ensnared in the probe after he was arrested by police in São Paulo.

“Lula should be released immediately and the courts should recognise once and for all that he has not committed any crime”, Lula da Silva’s lawyers said, following the release of the messages purportedly showing Mr Moro offering advice to chief prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol.

The leaked messages also appeared to show prosecutors plotting to prevent Lula da Silva taking part in an interview with Brazil’s biggest newspaper during the election campaign last year for fear that the story would boost the chances of his Workers’ Party winning the October poll. 

Lula da Silva was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison for corruption and money laundering — a term that was subsequently reduced to nine years. He is still facing a slew of other corruption-related charges.

Mr Moro played down the leaks from The Intercept as “sensationalist reporting,” while decrying the “criminal means” used to obtain the transcripts.

“There was a lot of noise because of the publication of alleged messages obtained by criminal means from Lava Jato prosecutors' cell phones. Close reading reveals that there's nothing there,” the justice minister said. 

Experts believe the revelations are unlikely to have deep political ramifications but may jeopardise Mr Moro’s anticipated appointment to Brazil’s Supreme Court.

“There were already appeals from Lula's lawyers questioning Moro's partiality or lack of impartiality [and] from a judicial point of view, this new evidence has been illegally obtained, so it has no validity,” said Oscar Vilhena, a professor of law at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.

“[But] It is clear that this new imbroglio will reduce the legitimacy of the justice system, which is already the subject of much distrust in Brazil. A part of the population understood that Moro acted politically and now, with this information, this part has one more reason to believe that the judicial system was influenced by political forces.”

Mr Bolsonaro has yet to comment on the case. However, his son Carlos — an influential figure within the administration — criticised the “illegal invasion”, saying it had to the “sole intention of burning the Bolsonaro government”.

Additional reporting by Carolina Unzelte

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