AP Explains: Leaks challenge ‘Car Wash’ probe

June 10, 2019
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2017 file photo, demonstrators show posters written in Portuguese that read, from left, "Lula in chains," and "Chain the Corrupt" and a picture of Judge Sergio Moro, responsible for investigating the Car Wash operation, at the headquarters of the Federal Police, in Brasilia, Brazil. A new report in June 2019 has questioned the impartiality of Moro, the judge at the heart of a Brazilian anti-corruption drive that has put dozens of top politicians and businessmen behind bars, in Brazil and abroad. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

A new report has questioned the impartiality of the judge at the heart of a Brazilian anti-corruption drive that has put dozens of top politicians and businessmen behind bars, in Brazil and abroad. The online publication The Intercept says leaked documents show Judge Sergio Moro was improperly guiding prosecutors in a case that led to the jailing of former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, an allegation he denies. Here’s a look at the overall case:


“Operation Car Wash” began in March 2014 as an investigation into money laundering in the southwestern state of Parana. Local police and prosecutors arrested gas station owner Carlos Habib Chater and accused him of doing business with convicted money launderer Alberto Youssef, who had bought a Range Rover for a former executive at the huge state oil company, Petrobras, Paulo Roberto Costa. Youseff and Costa reached plea bargains that opened windows onto an immense graft scheme.


Prosecutors say executives of major construction companies such as Odebrecht, OAS and Andrade Gutierrez effectively formed a cartel that decided which firms would be awarded Petrobras contracts, often worth billions of dollars, and how much to inflate prices to cover payoffs for politicians and Petrobras executives, investigators say.


A who’s who of businessmen and politicians have been convicted or are being investigated. Former President da Silva is appealing an 8-year, 10-month sentence for accepting an apartment from the OAS construction company. Another former president, Michel Temer, is also under investigation. Others include former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht and ex-Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha. It also hit deeply in Peru: Prosecutors say they’re seeking a 20-year sentence against former President Ollanta Humala and another former president, Alan Garcia, shot himself in the head in April as authorities arrived at his home to arrest him in connection with the probe.


Plea-bargain witnesses accused Silva of secretly receiving a beachfront apartment from OAS in exchange for Petrobras contracts between 2006 and 2012. Silva denies wrongdoing and says he was never the legal owner of the apartment. But Judge Moro argued that the intent to give him the apartment made it a crime. His conviction, upheld on appeal, prevented him from running for president again last year, opening the field for right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who won — and named Moro as his justice minister.


The Intercept says the documents show that Moro — who had been widely seen as a hero for overseeing the graft probe — helped guide prosecutors in their effort to convict da Silva when he should have been impartial. It also says they show that prosecutors doubted the strength of their evidence. Da Silva’s lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, said the prosecution was “corrupted” and said the former president should be freed. Moro and Vice President Hamilton Mourao said the conversations were taken out of context and defended their investigation.

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