Judge Sergio Moro presented no hard evidence in convicting former President Lula on corruption charges and his family’s political connections renders his judgment questionable says Independent Journalist Mike Fox
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, a top contender to win next year’s presidential election, was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to nearly 9.5 years in prison on Thursday. The judge, Sergio Moro, found Lula guilty of accepting renovations worth $1.2 million to a beachfront apartment that Sergio Moro says belongs to former president Lula da Silva. On to talk about this conviction with me is Mike Fox. Mike is an independent journalist based in Brazil. Mike, thanks for joining us. MICHAEL FOX: It’s great to be here. Thanks, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: Mike, let’s start with the charges and what Lula is convicted of according to Judge Moro. MICHAEL FOX: Judge Moro says that he is the owner of a beachfront apartment complex that received a very large amount of renovations, $1.2 million worth, from OAS, which is a civil engineering company that has been involved in the Petrobras scandal. So they basically say that he was given this apartment complex and these upgrades were done for him as kickbacks in exchange for the OAS to receive contracts from the state oil company Petrobras. They’ve never been able to show proof of this, concrete evidence saying that this was actually in his name. It is true that Lula and his wife went to this apartment complex and considered purchasing it, but they said that they never went ahead with that. That’s where this case is always really centered on. His lawyers, Lula, everyone on the left basically says, “No, there’s no way. You don’t have proof. This is not in his name. It never has been. Move on. He’s innocent.” And then those people on the right and obviously in this case, Judge Sergio Moro has come out saying, no, he actually did receive this apartment complex, and he apparently got that information from plea bargain testimony and other things like that. So that’s where this all centers around, and that’s why people on the left, and that’s why lawyers and whatnot are kind of so up in arms about this and so upset about this because there is no proof up until now. SHARMINI PERIES: In previous coverage at The Real News about this case, there was some talk of the judge or the prosecutor presenting some receipts that pointed to evidence that Lula and his wife had received some services towards this apartment. We’re talking about an apartment, not a complex, is that correct? MICHAEL FOX: It’s a three-floor apartment, exactly. SHARMINI PERIES: Yeah. There was some evidence of some receipts and so forth. Was any of that presented in court and presented to the public in terms of evidence? MICHAEL FOX: If that was the evidence, it has not been widely available insofar as people have it, it’s concrete, we can see it. That’s why this case is so kind of exemplary about the complications of where we are right now. Lula, former president, has just been brought up, he’s been convicted of corruption charges, but without that concrete evidence that is on a kind of a large scale that can convince everybody and say, okay, Lula did it. If that was the case, then, okay, we can move on. People can say, “Okay, we understand that.” But, no, kind of what everybody has been really focusing on is saying, no, that evidence does not exist. It has not been concrete in this level, and that’s why they think this is a really kind of political move from Judge Sergio Moro, that more than a legal move, this is a political push to try and tarnish Lula’s image or stop him from running in the 2018 elections. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Mike, Lula’s legal team has fought back. As you say, they have already said that they’re going to appeal this conviction, if it is a conviction. Too, they have indicated that this Judge Moro who convicted former president Lula is guilty for partisan politics and that this whole conviction is politically motivated. Why are they saying that? MICHAEL FOX: Sergio Moro, and this isn’t just his defense team, but this is widespread, and this is kind of another big debate that you have in Brazil and how Brazil is very divided at this moment between the left and the right, is Sergio Moro has long, long ties himself and also his family to the PSDB party. The PSDB is, of course, Brazil’s staunch right wing party. They’re the long-time rivals of the Workers’ Party. So these ties has made him out to be quite a political actor. Another thing that just happened a few months ago was he released kind of classified audio between Lula and Dilma, a conversation where they were discussing certain things. A lot of people came out and said, look, a judge, if you’re talking about a corruption case with the president and the former presidents of the country, you’re not just going to release audio public, make it public. No, this is the type of thing that you need to keep under wraps, and that’s another side of how kind of he’s playing kind of partisan politics here and really pushing out his game. The other thing that they point to is the fact that he hasn’t tried to investigate anyone within the PSDB party himself under this larger Lava Jato, Petrobras corruption investigations. The PSDB has been largely exempt of getting kind of called into his court and exempt from these investigations. He said that’s because they haven’t been a ruling party in the government over the last 10 years when these corruption allegations came into place. That’s true, but they’ve also been completely tainted with corruption, and were they not involved, that’s up for debate. SHARMINI PERIES: Mike, the last story you did for The Real News was about the rolling back of labor regulations in the country, and we’ve covered this a couple of times with you. That decision actually passed yesterday by the Temer government. Give us a sense of what those decisions were about and what this decision today is going to do to labor rights now buried under this decision. MICHAEL FOX: The news cycle has moved on. That was the big thing that people were talking about over the last 24 hours, was this new labor reform, which is fairly [inaudible 00:06:43] and it means that bosses can now negotiate directly with workers sidestepping collective bargaining, the labor law on the books, and also unions. So it’s going to have a massive impact on workers, and it was kind of the big news over the last 24 hours. That’s over. We’ve moved on to Lula now- SHARMINI PERIES: And we need to add to the fact that former president Lula is a labor leader still in the country who’s seen as the PT’s leader who is representing labor unions in the country, so all this is very well-timed by this Judge Moro. Is there any connection between the two decisions as far as you’re concerned? MICHAEL FOX: It’s anyone’s guess, really, but in Brazil, it’s a soap opera. A lot of this stuff, I think we’re going to continue to see these types of roll outs when news comes out, at what time, and how can we can redirect things in certain directions. This decision, this conviction, I think it’s really important to get a couple things very straight. This does not mean that Lula is going to jail, and it also does not mean that he cannot run in the 2018 elections. What it does is now it begins an appeal process that’s going to last for the next year. They say appeal process could take roughly eight months to twelve months until they come out with their verdict. If they come out with a verdict also against Lula, then that would bar him from actually running in the 2018 elections. Obviously, if they come out and overturn this last decision, then he’s free and clear. Even if they came out with a verdict that was also against Lula, and it was before August 15th, then his legal team could then go to the Supreme Federal Court and the Supreme Justice Court and ask them to potentially overturn and add an injunction that would allow him also to run. So there’s a lot of questions. There’s one judicial professor that I was reading online who said this is not even halfway through the first half of a very long soccer game. So this is the very beginning of all this. What’s important to understand is that even if, let’s say a year down the road, it overturns his appeal, overturns this last decision, what we’re going to see over the next year is running Lula through the mud. They’re going to try and taint and tarnish his image absolutely as much as possible, and that’s what a lot of people on the left are saying, is that this was the latest rollout of the coup that started last year with Dilma. The idea was to get Dilma out of office, stop the corruption investigations into the kind of the larger, those on the right, those in Congress and what not, and then tarnish Lula’s image as much as possible while they continue to push through austerity reforms to really lock things in for many years to come. So a lot of people on the left are saying, “We were kind of already expecting this. We knew it was going to happen six months ago, twelve months ago,” but it’s the latest step, it’s the latest move in a very long, long chess game that is the Brazilian soap opera. SHARMINI PERIES: Finally, Lula is facing a number of other charges as well. This is not the only one. What can we expect about those charges in the next few months? MICHAEL FOX: I think we’re going to expect to hear what they are, and we’re going to expect to hear more from Sergio Moro, no doubt, in the coming weeks and the coming months about those other charges. This is all happening, I think it’s also important to point out just so people understand the context, okay, so that’s the Lula case. On a larger case, we’re looking at Temer, the current president, who’s been indicted also for corruption, and that’s going to come up into the lower house. They’re going to vote whether or not that moves on. A lot of thing that we’re seeing on the left right now and through Twitter is a lot of people saying, it’s pointing out the hypocrisy, point out the hypocrisy of Lula kind of getting tagged, getting convicted of corruption while other people are let go. Aécio Neves, who’s one of the top PSDB leaders, who was suspended from the Senate just a few weeks ago for himself receiving bribes, he’s now back into the Senate, and he’s now working full time as the Senate. So there’s a lot of these pointing out you had Dilma Rousseff that was taken out of office, impeached last year, and she was impeached by two-thirds of the people that impeached her have accusations of corruption against them. So these are the types of things that we’re seeing. There is one other thing I really want to point out that I think is important, Sharmini, is looking forward towards 2018. If for some reason Lula can’t run, and this is obviously what the political forces on the right is definitely what they’re pushing for, the two main candidates right after him are Marina Silva who’s a former PT member who ran for the Socialist Party in the 2014 elections, she’s been kind of more of a Green candidate but also very evangelical, so people feel like she’s shifted away from her kind of left values, and Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is really capturing the right’s attention. He is the Donald Trump incarnate in Brazil. He is kind of the nationalist, homophobic, very virulent rhetoric against the left, against LGBT rights, women’s rights. That’s what we’re seeing, kind of this push from his own supporters, and we’ve even seen that right now. His sons are also politicians, and they’ve been kind of coming out and saying … Well, see, right now, what you’re going to see on the left is kind of this push to try and tarnish the image of Moro himself. So they’ve been hitting the Twittersphere, hitting up people’s different Twitter pages writing “fake news” kind of all over the place. They’ve done that to my own Twitter feed. So this is the kind of conflict that we’re going to see going ahead over the next few months and up until the elections next year, 2018. SHARMINI PERIES: Thanks for joining us, Mike. MICHAEL FOX: Thank you. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.