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  January 25, 2018

DOJ Lends a Hand in Prosecuting Lula

The "kangaroo court" upheld former Brazilian President Lula's conviction without an iota of evidence, says journalist Brian Mier
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SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. A Brazilian appeals court decided to uphold the corruption conviction against former President Lula da Silva on Wednesday. The three judges not only upheld the conviction but also agreed to the prosecution's request to increase the prison sentence from nine and a half years to 12 years. The decision, which can be appealed again, deals a blow to Lula's presidential candidacy. He is currently the frontrunner according to a number of polls for this year's presidential election. Here's what Lula had to say after the decision was handed down.

LULA DA SILVA: (Translator): The court's decision, I can almost respect it because it was theirs. What I don't accept is the lie from which they made the decision. They know I didn't commit a crime. I could spend an entire day with the three judges, televising the whole thing because what I want is for them to show me what crime Lula committed.

SHARMINI PERIES: Joining me to analyze the court's decision is Brian Mier. Brian is an editor for the website, Brasil Wire and is also the author of the book, "Voices of the Brazilian Left." Thanks for joining me, Brian.

BRIAN MIER: Thanks a lot.

SHARMINI PERIES: Brian, you were at the protest that LulaÂ’s supporters had held and organized yesterday after the court decision was handed down. Lula, of course, spoke there. What was the mood and what are the people saying? What is the reaction to all of this?

BRIAN MIER: Okay, well first of all, there was no illusion whatsoever among the 46% of the Brazilian public that supports Lula in the current presidential run, that he would be declared innocent through this appeal process. And the reason is that the judge in charge of the appeal, Judge Neto, is a close friend of the judge who launched the case against Lula in 2014 as part of the United States Department of Justice-supported Lava Jato investigation.

SHARMINI PERIES: Brian, clarify that. What do you mean about the US being involved in some way, in this prosecution?

BRIAN MIER: In July of 2017, of last year, acting assistant attorney general, Kenneth A. Blanco admitted during a speech at the Atlantic Council that was filmed and that you can watch online, and the transcripts of which are available to read on the US Department of Justice website, that they've been collaborating with the Lava Jato investigation since the beginning. And in his speech, Kenneth Blanco bragged about the Lulu conviction, saying that it was best example of the joint operation that is Lava Jato.

This is important because Lava Jato has also raised corruption charges against former center-left president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and it's tied up an ex-president of Peru. And there are also corruption allegations going against Cristina Kirchner in Argentina. It's beginning to look like one of the points of the entire investigation is to damage the political careers of center-left politicians in South America.

SHARMINI PERIES: Let's get back to Lula's case here. Were there any evidence provided for what Lula is being accused of, either in the original trial when he was convicted or even in this appeals process?

BRIAN MIER: I can give my opinion but I'd also like to reiterate that a lot of international observers are complaining about this case right now, including Geoffrey Robertson from the UN Human Rights Commission who's counsel to the Queen of England, and a world renown international law observer. Including Mark Weisbrot in the New York Times op-ed piece the other day, which calls this proceeding a “kangaroo court” proceeding. It's not just me. It's all of the legal analysts who are analyzing the case.

There's no physical evidence against Lula. The charges are that he received illegal reforms on a luxury apartment in the beach side town of Guaruja. Now these reforms cost around $700,000, okay. But the court has been unable to prove that Lula ever owned the apartment in question or visited the apartment in question. And this was reflected in their ruling yesterday, even, when they said that, “Well, the reason that Lula never owned the apartment is because the man who was going to give him the apartment was arrested before it happened.” In other words, even in the ruling, they said the crime did not happen, okay.

This is why it's being viewed as a travesty of justice and a politically motivated attack by, you know, 100 million Brazilian people, by hundreds of international human rights observers, by the 12 democratic Congressmen who sent a letter to the Brazilian ambassador last week complaining about this process, by British Parliamentarians, by Noam Chomsky and many other people. It's a politically motivated attack and the most of the American media is treating it as if it was a legitimate court proceeding, which is frustrating.

SHARMINI PERIES: Brian, I should add to that that there's a number of Congressmen from the US Congress that has also written a letter to the government of Brazil, demanding that there be a fair and open trial, and a process for Lula that is in accordance with professional legal proceedings rather than this “kangaroo court” at Mark Weisbrot says, that is being conducted now.

BRIAN MIER: Yeah, it's true. I know that Jan Schakowsky, who's the Congressman in my former district in Chicago is one of the people that signed that letter, and ...

SHARMINI PERIES: Also, Keith Ellison, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, the progressive caucus of the United States Congress had signed off on this letter, but let's proceed.

BRIAN MIER: Okay. Yeah, and it was nice that they did that. It's nice that there's some democrats who are paying attention to what's going on in South America at the moment.

SHARMINI PERIES: Why is it deemed a kangaroo court, Brian?

BRIAN MIER: Well, why is it a kangaroo court proceeding? First of all, as Geoffrey Robertson from the UN Human Rights Commission mentioned in an interview he gave immediately after the decision last night, Brazil has a very unique legal situation that dates back from the time of the Inquisition, in which the prosecutor can judge on his own prosecution in a trial that does not have a jury. This is what Sérgio Moro did as part of the Lava Jato investigation.

He built the case against Lula and then he judged on his own case. This is an archaic legal arrangement dating from the Inquisition that no longer exists anywhere else in the world, okay. In this case, we have a prosecutor and judge who's historically tied to the PSDB Party, which is the conservative opposition party of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. There have been a series of investigations and evidence produced against top PSDB politicians including two former presidential candidates with video evidence, audio evidence, bank records.

For example, former candidate and former São Paulo Governor, José Serra was implicated on audio tape receiving 52 million real in illegal campaign contributions from the Oderbruch Construction Company, which is the biggest company implicated in the Lava Jato investigation. And yesterday on the same day that Lula was, his appeal was rejected, a judge threw out all of the charges against Serra despite having a much larger body of evidence. It's one of the reasons that people like Geoffrey Robertson are calling thing a travesty of justice. Another question is that ...

SHARMINI PERIES: And is it clear that in this particular case that there was a plea bargain to, of course, provide evidence manufactured or otherwise against Lula in order to have his own release?

BRIAN MIER: Exactly. This is another major flaw. The only evidence that was produced against Lula was one plea bargain made by a man who was thrown in jail and only allowed out of jail if he agreed to testify something about Lula. So, there's no physical evidence. It's one person's word that's being used as the prime evidence in this case, okay.

Furthermore, there's a Oderbruch lawyer named Tacla Duran who's accused the Lava Jato commission of selling sentence reductions through plea bargaining. We've seen a dozen corrupt businessmen have their sentences reduced dramatically in the last three months by Sérgio Moro and his legal team. Including yesterday, one sentence was reduced from 46 years to two years. There's all kinds of irregularities going on, basically.

Finally, you know, Lula's been denied the right to trial by jury. None of these accusations are being deliberated on by juries. They're all being deliberated on by judges. The judge, the judiciary is not elected in Brazil. When the US government in 2009, led by Hillary Clinton's State Department decided to start engaging in activities to strengthen South American judiciaries, what they were essentially doing was weakening democracy by strengthening the one branch of government that has no accountability to the electorate. That's the case in Brazil. You have these conservative white upper middle class judges in a country that's 54% black. They're the deciding the fate of the ex-president.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right Brian. So, all of this in order to bar Lula from being able to run in the next election. If the appeal fails, he will not be able to run in the election, even if PT selects him as their leader. What then?

BRIAN MIER: Well, it's the Brazilian legal system is very tricky and this trickiness is exacerbated by the fact that since the coup in 2016, most politicians aren't paying any attention to the law anymore. From what I understand however, and from what they were saying last night at the protest that I attended at which Lula also spoke, is that regardless of his conviction he's going to run for president. They said that on August 15th, regardless, even if he were in jail, the PT Party would still put him up as the candidate for president.

SHARMINI PERIES: Speaking of jail, what is expected to happen in terms of his jail sentence now? It is under appeal, but is he able to remain in his home or is he having to go to jail now?

BRIAN MIER: No, no. He's completely free. He's flying to Ethiopia this weekend to give a speech about hunger reduction. It's important to remember that he eliminated famine in Brazil and lifted 36 million people above the poverty line, and he's still very respected in Africa and other less developed regions around the world for the progress that he made against hunger at a time when in most northern countries, the difference between the rich and poor was increasing.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, give us a little bit more context in terms of the body politics in Brazil. Now, although various members of the political elite and parties in Brazil are all under investigation for one aspect of corruption or another, some far more severe allegations than what Lula's accused of. But PT is the only party barred, the elite have barred from running in the next election. While Temer, who's also accused of corruption and very serious allegations is running the country.

BRIAN MIER: Yeah, it's pretty clear that we're living in a state of exception right now in which the rule of law is not really being applied. Temer officially was banned from running for office again for corruption. Most elected officials have parliamentary immunity or diplomatic immunity, whereas even if they're charged with corruption, they cannot be arrested.

In the case where for example, 2014, US supported presidential candidate from the conservative PSDB party, Aécio Neves was caught on tape threatening to kill a witness and negotiating millions of dollars in bribes. They had to go through a process to remove him from the Senate before he could be tried for corruption charges. He was removed. He was tried. The Supreme Court declared him innocent and he was back in the Senate again, even though there's audio and videotape that anyone can access on the internet showing how corrupt he is, with tens of millions of dollars changing hands. So, it's a complicated situation. A lot of people are saying we're in a state of exception. It was a coup that happened in 2016 and the current government's just not paying very much attention to the law or applying it selectively.

SHARMINI PERIES: By 2016, you're referring to the coup or the legislative coup against Dilma Rousseff?

BRIAN MIER: Exactly. The coup against Dilma Rousseff. The charges that, for the crime which she committed which was an infraction. That crime was legalized the week after she was thrown out of office. It's not even a crime anymore. It wasn't considered an impeachable offense according to the constitution. It was an infraction. She was later declared innocent from it.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Brian. Thank you so much for joining us today.

BRIAN MIER: Thanks a lot. Take it easy.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


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