Brazilian Supreme Court takes over inquiry into ex-president

Brazil’s Supreme Court rules against returning corruption investigation involving President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to judge he accuses of bias

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (C) poses for picture with foreign journalists after a news conference with international media in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 28, 2016

Brazil’s Supreme Court offered former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a victory on Thursday, ruling against returning a corruption investigation involving the ex-leader back to a judge he accuses of unfairly targeting him.

Brazil’s highest court voted 8-2 to take over the case, effectively removing the investigation on Silva from Judge Sergio Moro, the lower court magistrate inquiring into a corruption case focused on state-run oil company Petrobras.

The top court decision overruled a decision by federal judge Sergio Moro to release a wiretap recording of a conversation between Lula and President Dilma Rousseff related to his appointment to her Cabinet as her chief of staff.  

Moro, a judge from Curitiba province, has stood attention over the two years while probing into the Petrobras corruption case that included some of Brazil’s richest businessmen and many politicians.

Meanwhile, he was accused of taking sides earlier this month after ordering police to take Silva into custody for questioning related to Petrobras case.

The full court has not yet considered appeals of separate injunction that prevented Silva from taking office for weeks as President Dilma Rousseff’s chief of state. The former president, who served from 2003-2010, has denied all wrongdoing.

People attend a protest against impeachment proceedings against Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, March 31, 2016. (Reuters)

On Thursday demonstrators took to the streets in more than 20 states to support Silva and Rousseff, who is struggling impeachment proceedings over allegations she violated fiscal laws.

Thousands of demonstrators, most of them dressed in red, the symbol of Rousseff's left-leaning Workers' Party, gathered in the capital, Brasilia, as well as the financial center Sao Paulo and other cities throughout the country.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) decided at a leadership meeting that its six remaining ministers in Rousseff's Cabinet and all other party members with government appointments must resign or face ethics proceedings.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party was the biggest coalition partner in the Rousseff’s government.   

But Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu, a close confidant of Rousseff, wrote on Twitter that she didn't plan on leaving either the government or the party. Her tweet suggested the other five PMDB Cabinet ministers held the same stand.

It wasn't immediately clear how the PMDB - Brazil's largest party - would respond to the minister's defiance.

Rousseff's office announced late on Wednesday that Sports Minister George Hilton had asked to leave the position and would be temporarily replaced by a top ministry official.

The presidential palace said in a statement that Hilton's replacement, 45-year-old Ricardo Leyser, had headed the agency responsible for coordinating the federal government's role in the Olympics.

Brazilian news media have asserted Rousseff planned to offer the vacated ministries to the six smaller parties that remain in her coalition in a bid to help her secure their support against impeachment efforts. She needs 172 out of 513 votes in the lower house to end the proceedings.

Impeachment proceedings against Rousseff in Congress' lower house focus on allegations she manipulated government budget accounts to benefit her re-election in 2014. The lower house is expected to vote by mid-April on whether to send her for trial in the Senate.

Brazil enjoyed a decade of economic prosperity and social progress between 2003 and 2013, in which over 26 million people broke the impasse of poverty and inequality, but recently faced the Petrobras corruption scandal, political turmoil and Zika epidemic. 

TRTWorld and agencies