Thursday, March 17, 2016


Tempers Flare in Brazil Over Intercepts of Calls by Ex-President ‘Lula’

RIO DE JANEIRO — “In Brazil, a poor man goes to jail when he steals,” a fiery left-wing congressman named Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said in 1988. “When a rich man steals, he becomes a minister.”

Those words are coming back to haunt him now.

On Thursday, Mr. da Silva, the former president facing investigations into his accumulation of wealth since leaving office, was sworn in as exactly that: a cabinet minister.

With prosecutors seeking his arrest, Mr. da Silva was sworn in as chief of staff to his protégé and successor, President Dilma Rousseff. The post may give him broad legal protections, but immediately set off a national firestorm.

A judge in the capital, Brasília, issued an injunction against the move, arguing that Ms. Rousseff may have violated the law in appointing Mr. da Silva. Protesters rallied outside the ceremony and on the streets of São Paulo as police officers tried to prevent clashes

And the old quote by Mr. da Silva — made long ago to denounce the legal protections enjoyed by senior officials ensnared in graft scandals — circulated widely in Brazil, illustrating the former president’s evolution from a union leader who crusaded against corruption to the target of multiple investigations.

Mr. da Silva, 70, also found himself at the center of an uproar over the release of intercepts of telephone conversations in which he discusses ways to attack the officials investigating his dealings and says, “Why can’t we intimidate them?”

The intercepts, made public by Sergio Moro, the judge overseeing the inquiry into the colossal graft scheme around the national oil company, set off a fierce debate over the limits of surveillance in Latin America’s largest country and whether Ms. Rousseff and Mr. da Silva conspired to obstruct investigations.

In one of the recordings, Mr. da Silva and Ms. Rousseff briefly discuss his “appointment papers,” with the president telling him that they are available “in case they are needed.”

Critics of the government contend that the discussion reveals how the two officials were moving to obstruct the investigation into Mr. da Silva’s dealings by making him a minister.

Cabinet ministers figure among the 700 or so senior officials in Brazil, including all of the elected members of Congress, who have special judicial standing. It allows them to be tried only by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court.

Effectively, few officials tried at the court ever go to jail, with their trials dragging on for years.

In the capital, a judge issued an injunction on Thursday in an attempt to block Mr. da Silva’s appointment, arguing that Ms. Rousseff may have interfered with the workings of the judiciary.

Such injunctions are common in Brazil’s legal system and are often overturned. The solicitor general, José Eduardo Cardozo, said that Ms. Rousseff’s government was quickly appealing.

Expressing anger over the spectacle of a sitting president having one of her phone conversations broadcast on national television, Ms. Rousseff also lashed out at the release of intercepts, contending that she and Mr. da Silva were merely following normal procedures. She accused the judge of releasing the conversations illegally, describing the move as contributing to efforts to oust her.

“This is how coups get underway,” she said at Mr. da Silva’s swearing-in ceremony in Brasília, which was marked by the shouting of the word “shame” by an opposition legislator and protests outside the palace by groups of opponents and supporters of the government.

The country pored over details of the former president’s conversations, dissecting his profanity-laced phone calls with a range of senior officials, from cabinet ministers to the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes.

In one call with a legislator from Mr. da Silva’s leftist Workers Party, the former president explains how he wants the party’s members of Congress to exert pressure on Judge Moro and the prosecutors investigating the claims of bribery and money laundering by a group of large construction companies.
“I think they have to be afraid,” Mr. da Silva said on the call. “He needs to go to sleep knowing that the following day he’ll have 10 legislators irritating him at his house, irritating him at his office, facing a case at the Supreme Federal Tribunal.”

“Why can’t we intimidate them?” Mr. da Silva continued.

Facing an outcry from Mr. da Silva’s supporters over the recordings, Judge Moro said in a statement on Thursday that they were allowed as part of the inquiry into the former president’s business dealings.

The judge also said that a conversation with Ms. Rousseff was intercepted because she called Mr. da Silva.

“Not even the highest leader of the republic has the absolute privilege of guarding their communications,” Judge Moro said, citing the precedent of the taped conversations of Richard M. Nixon that formed part of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s in the United States.

Still, the move by Judge Moro, who has emerged as a hero among the protesters calling for the ouster of Ms. Rousseff, sparked debates around Brazil’s legal system over intercepting the calls in the first place and then releasing them on a day when emotions were running high over the political shifts in Brasília.

“He was not acting as a judge,” said Ronaldo Lemos, a law professor at Rio de Janeiro State University and one of the creators of the legislation covering freedom of speech and privacy on the Internet. “He was acting as a politician. That’s what concerns me.”

Others, however, say that Judge Moro was acting in the public interest by releasing the intercepts.

“I don’t think there was a single illegal act in what Judge Sergio Moro did,” said Fernando Castelo Branco, a criminal lawyer and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo. “Ex-president Lula was not a minister at that time. Even though he was speaking to the president of the republic, the focus of the investigation was a common citizen without special judicial standing.”

Either way, the intercepts seem to be contributing to the political upheaval gripping the country.

The lower house appointed a committee on Thursday that will analyze a move to impeach Ms. Rousseff over claims of improperly using funds from state banks to cover budget shortfalls.

And in the Supreme Federal Tribunal, which will rule on the injunction blocking Mr. da Silva’s appointment, tempers flared over a recording in which the former president derided the court as “intimidated,” calling into question its capacity to oversee corruption cases involving senior officials.

Celso de Mello, 70, the court’s most senior member, called Mr. da Silva’s characterization “vile and undignified.”

“It’s typical,” Mr. de Mello said, “of autocratic, arrogant minds.”

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The idea behind the text.
Respect for the truth is almost the basis of all morality.
Nothing can come from nothing.

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