Brazil’s Prosecutor General Demands Obstruction of Justice Probe Against President

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff attends the launching ceremony of sectoral plans for the mitigation of climate change at the meeting of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change in Brasilia, June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Brazil’s Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot has formally requested the Supreme Court to allow him to open a corruption investigation against President Dilma Rousseff, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the nation’s attorney general, José Eduardo Cardozo.

Janot is contending that Rousseff’s appointment of Lula as her chief of staff earlier this year may constitute obstruction of justice, as it prevented federal courts from continuing a probe into whether he had any involvement in the billion-dollar corruption scheme at state-owned oil corporation Petrobras, known as Operation Car Wash.

In Brazil, the prosecutor general acts as the head prosecutor of the nation, much like America’s attorney general, while the attorney general is a cabinet-level position that serves as the government’s in-house attorney.

Brazilian newspaper O Globo broke the news that Janot is seeking Supreme Court permission to investigate the socialist head of state and her predecessor. Executive-level officials cannot be tried in the nation’s federal courts, but only by the nation’s Supreme Court. Janot is arguing that there is sufficient evidence to investigate whether Rousseff appointed Lula her chief of staff hoping the Supreme Court would reject any petition to investigate him further.

Shortly after his appointment, Judge Sergio Moro of the nation’s federal court system released wiretapped audio of a conversation between Rousseff and Lula which appeared to indicate that she was prepared to appoint him a minister if federal investigators got too close to charging him on corruption violations. Investigators detained Lula for hours in early March, asking about beachfront properties they suspect he had paid for with embezzled Petrobras money. Shortly after this occurred, Rousseff announced her appointment of Lula in her cabinet.

Janot is also arguing that Cardozo, in his previous appointment as minister of justice, had attempted to use his power to protect politicians being investigated for embezzling funds out of Petrobras. Cardozo has issued a statement calling Janot’s allegations “absolutely frivolous and untrue.”

The Lula Institution, which maintains control over the public legacy of the former president, released a statement once again condemning Moro for releasing the wiretapped audio: “There is only one clear crime in this episode: the illegal recording and unlawful disclosure of a call from the President of the Republic.”

While O Globo claims Janot’s petition is directly related to the recent appointment of Lula as chief of staff, the newspaper Estadao de S. Paulo has published a document it claims to be the official Supreme Court petition, in which Janot allegedly argues that Lula could feasibly be found to have been running the entire “Car Wash” operation. “This criminal organization could have never functioned for so many years and in such a widespread and aggressive form in the federal government without ex-president Lula participating,” the document reads.

The newspaper notes that Janot had vowed last year not to pursue an investigation into Rousseff over the Petrobras corruption scheme, though in this petition he appears only to be requesting an investigation into her role in appointing Lula, not her role as minister of energy during Lula’s tenure, when most of the malfeasance alleged in the Car Wash case took place.

The bombshell petition to the Supreme Court arrives just days before the Brazilian Senate is to vote on whether to impeach Rousseff. Rousseff stands accused of significantly misrepresenting the state of the Brazilian economy by borrowing money to make it appear healthier than it was, misleading thousands of investors and damaging the financial state of the country further. The House of Representatives has already voted to impeach her. The Senate will vote on May 11 on whether to impeach or not; if they vote “yes,” Rousseff will be out of office on May 12.

President Rousseff has called the impeachment process “sexist” and an “act of violence against democracy,” as well as comparing her plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany.