Former Workers Party President Lula da Silva was convicted to another 12 years and 11 months in a case that is almost identical to his first conviction, neither of which had any solid evidence, says Brasilwire’s Brian Mier
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Baltimore.
Last week, a judge in Brazil sentenced former Workers Party President Lula da Silva to another 12 years and 11 months of prison in a new corruption case. That is, this new conviction is an addition to the one that Lula is already serving since April of last year, when he was sentenced to 12 years and 1 month. The two cases are very similar in that both cases Lula was accused of accepting bribes in the form of renovations from OAS, a powerful construction company, for two homes. However, in neither case did the prosecution demonstrate that Lula actually owned these homes. Workers Party President Gleisi Hoffman tweeted in response to the newest conviction: “The persecution of Lula doesn’t stop. A second Lava Jato conviction was issued just as Lula’s chances for a Nobel Peace Prize rose. In the memory of the people and of history, Lula will always be greater than his executioners.”.
Joining me now from Sao Paulo, Brazil to discuss this latest conviction against Lula is Brian Mier. Brian is an editor for the website Brasil Wire, and is also editor of the book Voices of the Brazilian left. Thanks for joining us again, Brian.
BRIAN MIER: Thanks for having me, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So, give us some more details as to what this latest conviction of Lula was about. It sounds almost identical to Lula’s earlier conviction. Is that so? And what kind of evidence or proof was presented in this case?
BRIAN MIER: It’s very similar to the previous conviction, with weaker evidence. Essentially, the U.S. Department of Justice and Curitiba Public Prosecutor’s Office joint investigation known as Lava Jato, Car Wash, spent years investigating Lula, and they made three accusations against him. The first was for the renovations in the apartment in Guaruja, which they were unable to prove he had ever owned, or even spent any time in, or that renovations had actually taken place there. In the current case over this vacation property in Atibaia, Judge Moro was the investigator. He built the case with constant support from the U.S. Department of Justice. Patrick Stokes flew down to Curitiba a couple of times. They used U.S. DOJ tactics, mainly basing the entire conviction on one plea bargain testimony, as the DOJ did against Senator Ted Stevens in 2009, Alaska, in a case that was also overthrown later.
And at the last minute, a new judge named Gabriela Hardt took over, because Sergio Moro accepted the position of justice minister in the right wing extremist government of Jair Bolsonaro. So, essentially, she ruled on Moro, her mentor’s investigation, and it’s full of irregularities, of course. They were unable to prove that Lula owned the property. In fact, the property belongs to a man named Fernando Bittar. He is a businessman, and he’s the son of one of Lula’s oldest friends. Jaco Bittar, who’s a fellow union leader from the 1970s who also got into politics, and was the mayor of Campinas, which is the 11th richest city in Brazil for several years.
The judge tried to make the case that this guy, Fernando Bittar, was a kind of front man; you know, it was a shell operation, or whatever you might call it. But when they do that normally, like when criminals do those kind of things, they get a front man who isn’t rich. But Fernando Bittar is a wealthy businessman. There’s no indication that he’s not the owner of the property. The fact is they are family friends of the family, and the families have been spending, for example, Christmas holidays together since the 1970s.
So it’s just another farce. You know, it’s a farce. It was designed, as Gleisi Hofman pointed out, to take the wind out of the push for Lula’s nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize this year, and also maybe to keep him in jail until after the next elections, if there are next elections. Because in Brazil you’re obligated to pass about one sixth of your sentence behind bars. So joining these two cases together now, it means that Lula will have to spend six years behind bars, unless their cases are overturned in their appeals processes, which are still ongoing.
GREG WILPERT: So, originally, Judge Sergio Moro was in charge of prosecuting Lula, and presided in the first trial against him. However, as you mentioned, Moro recently took a position in Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet as justice minister. And so the case went to a new judge. And Moro himself had always presented himself as being an anti-corruption crusader, but his impartiality has come into doubt, for various reasons. So, first, tell us what you think about Moro’s impartiality. And second, is the new judge, Gabriela Hardt, any better than Moro?
BRIAN MIER: First of all, Moro is a right wing political operative who’s working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, and has been for several years. He has no impartiality whatsoever, because he removed Lula from the presidential race to open the path for Jair Bolsonaro, who he is now working for as a cabinet minister. And he also illegally leaked slanderous information against leading–the PT candidate Fernando Haddad two weeks before the elections last year, also aiding Jair Bolsonaro. And it’s now come out, according to Vice President Hamilton Mourao, that Moro was meeting with Bolsonaro’s people before he leaked that information. So not only does it appear that he’s obviously not impartial, he’s politically aligned with the far right. It also appears that he illegally collaborated to help Bolsonaro win the elections.
Now, his replacement, Gabriela Hardt, is his protege, and she’s basically–she just went along with everything he said in the investigation. In fact, she threw out 1,146 pages of evidence proving Lula’s innocence that was submitted by the defense team. She just didn’t even look at it. And as far as Moro, you know, being–what his political ideology is, since he’s taken over as justice minister, he’s announced that he’s going to reduce and eliminate penalties for police officers who kill people, and allow them to use the excuse that they were afraid in cases of killing people. Now, this is the police that kills the most people in the world. The Brazilian police killed 5,000 people last year, officially. And most of them were black male youth. So there’s already a major human rights problem, as cited by Amnesty International and other groups, with police killings in Brazil, and police connection to death squads, like the right wing paramilitary militia from [irdos pedros] favela, that Bolsonaro’s son has been accused of laundering money for. You know, that Moro is now protecting.
OK, so now, in another sign of what Moro’s political ideology really is, he’s announced he’s going after union leaders for corruption. And obviously he’s going to use the same very dubious investigative techniques, based on what he’s learned from the U.S. Department of Justice, going after corrupt businessmen and offering them plea bargain deals with sentence reduction and partial asset retention if they’ll read off a kind of script to to implicate anyone of his choice. You know, this is what we can look forward to with him. He’s basically now in charge–turning into kind of the J. Edgar Hoover of Brazil. He’s in charge of intelligence, of the federal police. Of all these different governmental departments. And ideologically, he’s a right wing extremist.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah, that actually brings me to my next question, which has to do with the fact that the judge–that is, in this case it was Moro, but just in general, it seems, in Brazil, plays a role as chief investigator and chief prosecutor in addition to being the judge. This sounds rather odd to people in the U.S., where these roles tend to be separated. How does this work in Brazil, and how can someone such as Lula get a fair trial under such circumstances?
BRIAN MIER: Well, It’s incredible to think about, really. Brazil is one of the only countries, if not the only country, left in the world that still applies law from the Inquisition. And so what Moro’s role really was there in his prosecution against Lula was inquisitor. You know, the investigator can rule on his own investigation. And this isn’t the normal situation in Brazil. It’s not that common. But they allowed Moro to do it while he was going after Lula. It dates back to the Inquisition. And so how can Lula get a fair trial in this situation? He cannot. And that’s why he’s in jail, having no material evidence presented against him in either of these two cases.
GREG WILPERT: So what’s next, now? Is there any chance that Lula could get out of prison someday? Or what are his next steps?
BRIAN MIER: Well, Greg, I, in my–I’m not a fortune teller, but in my opinion there’s going to have to be some kind of regime change before he gets out of jail. They’re going to do–they’ve still got one more Lava Jato investigation against him for an equally or even more ridiculous claim involving his institute, the Lula Institute, and a piece of land. Wo even if he wins the appeal in these first two cases, they’ll charge him on this third case. And they’re kind of stalling on it to make sure they can–as long as, you know, Sergio Moro is minister of justice and Bolsonaro is president it’s going to be very hard for Lula to get out of jail, unless there’s really heavy international pressure. And we just don’t see that coming from the Democratic Party in the U.S., really, you know. And they’re basically calling the shots down here, anyway. So I think the U.S. has a big role in Lula’s freedom at this point, and the Democrats are really dropping the ball, as they’re dropping the ball in Venezuela.
GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now, but I’m sure we’ll come back to you as the case continues to develop. I was speaking to Brian Mier, editor of the website BrasilWire.com. Thanks again, Brian, for having joined us today.
BRIAN MIER: Thanks a lot.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.