Brazil Court Suspends Immunity-Granting Appointment of Ex-President as Minister

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff talks with former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during his swearing-in ceremony as the chief of staff, at the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, March 17, 2016. Silva was sworn in as his successor’s chief of staff on Thursday and Rousseff insisted he …
AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Less than an hour after President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil swore her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, into a position as her new chief of staff, a federal court issued an injunction annulling the appointment, suggesting Rousseff’s decision may amount to a crime.

Brazil’s Fourth Federal Court issued an injunction this afternoon on the appointment of da Silva as Rousseff’s chief of staff or Head Minister. The position would grant da Silva prosecutorial immunity from the federal court system, though not from the nation’s Supreme Court. Many have expressed concern, however, that the Supreme Court would not pursue high-ranking officials in such a scandal. Da Silva’s appointment follows a probe into his activities as president, including possible money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Judge Itagiba Cata Preta Neto argues in the injunction motion that Rousseff may have committed a crime by appointing da Silva and preventing the federal court system from completing their investigation. “It implies the direct intervention, through the act of Her Excellency the President of the Republic, in organs of judiciary power,” the injunction reads. “It is an act that prevents or is intended to prevent the free exercise of the judiciary.” The judge calls the case “complex and very grave,” and also implicates da Silva: “The possession and exercise of the office may give rise to unwarranted intervention in policing, prosecution and even in the exercise of judicial power by Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.”

Rousseff has yet to file her appeal of the injunction, though it is expected.

Rousseff swore da Silva in on Thursday morning after a long week of speculation that the ruling socialist Workers’ Party was seeking a solution to his potential arrest. Da Silva was president during most of the time in which the corruption scheme at Petrobras, the state-run oil corporation, ran, and a witness has accused him of using laundered money out of Petrobras to fund his campaign. It is estimated that conspirators stole more than $3 billion through overcharging on Petrobras projects and pocketing the undocumented funds coming in. Rousseff served as da Silva’s Minister of Energy at the time, though she had not been implicated in the scandal until the same witness said he received a message from the president offering money for his silence in this case.

On Wednesday night, Judge Sergio Moro of the federal court — who would lose his authority over the case against da Silva should the appointment go through — released wiretapped conversations between Rousseff and da Silva indicated that she had plotted to grant him a ministerial role in order to shield him from prosecution. The wiretaps triggered massive protests across the nation, less than a week after more than three million Brazilians took to the streets Sunday to demand the Brazilian Congress impeach Rousseff. Moro has become a celebrity in the midst of the Petrobras investigation, with protesters wearing masks and T-shirts with his face on them.
In the released wiretaps, da Silva is heard saying he is “sincerely frightened” by Moro.
The office of the presidency has strongly condemned the release of the audio, in which Rousseff assures da Silva that the documents are ready for his appointment to her cabinet “in case of emergency.” During the swearing-in ceremony today, Rousseff demanded to know “who authorized” the recording of the conversation and warned that such releases of private conversations “is how coups begin.”
“Brazil cannot submit to a conspiracy that invades the constitutional prerogatives of the President of the Republic,” she protested.
Before she could speak, the ceremony was interrupted by a protester, who shouted “shame!” at the president and was shouted down by event attendees warning of a coup against Rousseff.



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