The Brazilian Supreme Court has annulled all evidence presented by the now-defunct Lava Jato task force, calling current President Lula da Silva’s 2018 imprisonment a “historical mistake” and one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the country’s history. The task force had sought to expose alleged government corruption.
Lula was imprisoned in 2018 after being sentenced to eight years and 10 months for accepting bribes from engineering firms in return for public contracts. He was freed in November of 2019 after nineteen months in jail, and the Supreme Court vacated his sentence in 2021.
The court’s decision means that lower judges must now review a 2016 leniency agreement between prosecutors and the government contractor Odebrecht that allowed Lava Jato (also known as Operation Car Wash) to move forward because its evidence was not lawfully obtained.
The deal granted company executives leniency in exchange for exposing government malfeasance and ceasing all unlawful practices. At least 87 Odebrecht members were involved in the operation.
In his 135-page ruling, judge Antonio Dias Toffoli said that the confessions that came from the agreement were in fact the result of “psychological torture,” aimed at gathering false evidence against innocent people. He added that Lula’s conviction was a “set-up” to prevent him from taking part in the 2018 elections, which the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro eventually won.
“The case was a [ruse] devised by certain civil servants who aimed to conquer the state through means that appeared to be legal but with actions and a methodology that were against the law,” the judge wrote.
Toffoli saved his harshest criticism for the investigation that sentenced Brazil’s current president.
“[Lula’s arrest] was the original sin for [later] attacks on democracy and institutions, which could be foreseen in the words and actions of these agents against institutions and the Supreme Court itself,” he continued.
The judge based his decision on dialogues revealed by Operation Spoofing, which pointed to collusion between the then-Lava Jato judge, current senator Sergio Moro, and the operation’s prosecutors in Curitiba.
These messages, which later became know as Vaza Jato (Car Wash Leaks), were obtained by hacker Walter Delgatti and published in an Intercept Brazil report. Lula’s convictions were overturned, and he was able to run for president again in 2022, narrowly defeating the incumbent Bolsonaro.
Moro objected to the court’s decision, saying that “corruption was real” during the Working People Party’s (PT) time in power, a reference to the previous administrations of Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016).
“The criminals confessed, and more than R$6 billion were recovered for Petrobras [close to US$1,2 billion at the current exchange rate],” Moro wrote on X, the website formerly known as Twitter.
“That was the result of Lava Jato, working within the law and achieving sentences that were later confirmed by higher courts. Brazilians saw this, supported it, and know the truth. We respect institutions and our actions were lawful.”
– with information from Télam