The judge presiding over a massive corruption probe into Brazil’s state-run oil corporation has released audio of wiretaps in which President Dilma Rousseff is heard telling her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, that she has a plan in place to grant him government immunity should prosecutors build a strong enough case to send him to jail on corruption charges.
The release of this audio may be Judge Sergio Moro’s last salvo in presiding over the case against da Silva, as the latter was sworn in Thursday as Rousseff’s chief of staff, a position she held under da Silva’s tenure as president. As head minister, da Silva may only be charged in the nation’s Supreme Court, preventing the federal judiciary from pursuing a case against him.
Federal prosecutors interrogated da Silva last week following witness testimony linking him to the $3 billion Petrobras corruption scandal. A former senator arrested in connection with the kickback scheme, in which Petrobras officials during the da Silva presidency routinely overcharged on corporate projects and pocketed the extra cash, accused da Silva of using some of the money for Workers’ Party political campaigns. The same senator, Delcidio Amaral, alleged that Rousseff tried to buy his silence through his aide after his arrest.
The wiretapped conversations between da Silva and Rousseff – taken from the phone of a da Silva aide – indicate that the latter was aware of the high odds of da Silva’s being implicated in the case, and had a plan in action in the event that he faced jail time. “Look, I am sending [a subordinate] with the papers so that we have them, use them only in case of emergency, as this is the act of assumption [to a ministerial role], alright?” Rousseff tells da Silva.
In another conversation, da Silva expresses fear that Moro will put him in prison. “I am honestly frightened. … [O]nce there is a trial court judge, anything can happen in this country,” he says, referring to Moro. He disparages the Brazilian court system, however, calling the Supreme Court “totally cowered.” He said, “We have a totally cowered Parliament,” adding that “only in recent times have the Workers’ Party and Communist Party of Brazil started to struggle.” He laments that the nation has “a f**ked House of Representatives, a f**ked Senate president,” and states, “I don’t know how many threatened legislators.”
In releasing the wiretaps, Moro noted that the possibility of a plan having been in place is not in itself incriminating: “There is no indication inside or outside the dialogues that those mentioned in fact proceeded in an inappropriate manner.” Nonetheless, the office of the presidency has called the release “an affront to the rights and guarantees of the presidency.”
The wiretaps, along with the news that da Silva would be inaugurated as chief of staff for Rousseff on Thursday, triggered another round of nationwide protests Wednesday night, calling for Rousseff to step down. While Sunday’s protests, totaling up to 3.6 million people, were largely peaceful, police in the capital, Brasilia, used tear gas and water cannons against protesters who approached them with firecrackers, shouting, “Police for bandits” at them. Larger protests in Sao Paulo were peaceful, however, with Brazilians calling for their president to resign.
Rousseff swore da Silva into his new ministerial role on Wednesday morning, but not without incident. Before the president could speak, a man in the audience shouted, “Shame!” (“Vergonha!”), triggering a strong response of “There will be no coup!” from those assembled in support of da Silva.
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Many have indicated that the Supreme Court will not pursue a case against da Silva or Rousseff, though it is the only judicial body with the power to do so. For protesters, a ray of hope arrives in the form of the nation’s attorney general, Rodrigo Janot, who announced Thursday he would open an investigation against Rousseff on the charge of obstruction of justice. The head of the lower chamber of Congress announced Wednesday that procedures for impeaching Rousseff would begin this week; she faces impeachment for accounting discrepancies unrelated to the Petrobras scandal.