Brian Mier, co-editor of Brasil Wire based in São Paulo, described to Sputnik the significance of the recent Brazilian Supreme Court decision to invalidate the conviction of former President Lula da Silva. Mier detailed the origins of the prosecution against Lula, which lie in the now infamous joint US-Brazilian "anti-corruption" investigation Operação Lava Jato (aka Operation Car Wash). Lava Jato, Mier explains, was revealed to be tainted from the beginning by political bias and improper conduct by both the judge and chief prosecutor in the case, following the leaks of private Telegram messages between the two.
Sputnik: Can you explain what Operation Car Wash (Operação Lava Jato) was and its relevance to the prosecution and conviction of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva?
Brian Mier: Operation Car Wash [Operação Lava Jato] was initiated as a joint international anti-corruption investigation in partnership between a small group of public prosecutors in the provincial [Brazilian] city of Curitiba, the US Department of Justice, SEC [Securities and Exchange Committee], and the Swiss federal police — ostensibly to combat corruption. But in fact, what it did was paralyse some of Brazil's key industries and attempted to annihilate the careers of some important leftist politicians, including former President Lula [da Silva].
Sputnik: As you've just noted, Lava Jato was eventually revealed to be rather skewed in terms of who it focused on and who it did not, with accusations emerging that it was a form of "lawfare". Can you explain exactly how that panned out in practice?
Brian Mier: Well, everyone suspected this from the beginning in Brazil, all in the progressive community, at least, on the left, everyone suspected it was being used to target [former President] Dilma Rousseff before her illegal impeachment and Lula and other party leaders of the Workers' Party while sparing basically everyone from the PSDB party [Social Democracy Party], which has historic ties to the US Democratic Party. However, once these leaked Telegram messages - that were hacked by a man named Wagner Delgatti - were released, first on a small scale to The Intercept, but now on a much larger scale to the Supreme Court and, Lula’s defence team, we see that the entire time during the course of the investigation, there were illegal meetings being held every 15 days to plan the operation out with a group of FBI agents.
This supposedly impartial judge [Sergio Moro] was giving instructions to the prosecution on how to damage the public image of targets of the operation and how to selectively give out media leaks. And it also shows them praying that [President Jair] Bolsonaro would win the elections. And we had this quid pro quo where the judge in the operation was immediately rewarded with a justice minister position after Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil.
Sputnik: Can you elaborate a bit further on the US role in the Lava Jato investigation?
Brian Mier: In 1970, [the US] passed a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which has been expanded over the years. Initially it was to try and punish US companies for committing corruption abroad. But through its adhesion to this anti-corruption act, that was passed internationally in 1997, any signatory to it opens up their sovereignty for US agents to operate against companies that either are American or that [are] traded on the US stock exchange, or even if they have property in the US or an office, or if they've ever paid a bribe in US dollars, they're open to investigation, in partnership with local authorities, by US authorities. And this FCPA, as it's called for short, was used as justification, for example, when FBI agents raided FIFA headquarters in Switzerland in 2015 and arrested some of their vice presidents.
So from the beginning, there was an FCPA partnership between the US Department of Justice and SEC, and these Brazilian public prosecutors. Through the operation, in 2015 alone, the US collected more than $3.5 billion in fines from some of the key companies in Brazil’s industry, and also through the operation, they paralysed the five largest construction companies in the country in 2015. Analysis conducted now shows that the result of Lava Jato was that 4.4 million Brazilians lost their jobs and $173 billion of foreign investment didn't end up arriving in Brazil because of this operation.
So, we really view it now as a kind of economic and political terrorism that was committed against one political party in Brazil, mainly the workers party, but opened the door for this neo-fascist takeover by Jair Bolsonaro and the military generals who were running the country with them, which is handing over all of the results, natural resources at below-market rates to US and European multinationals right now.
Sputnik: What exactly is it that Lula da Silva was convicted of?
Brian Mier: Lula da Silva was convicted of committing indeterminate acts of corruption, because the judge and prosecutors were working together in a process that had no jury, couldn't find any material evidence that he'd committed any crime. Ostensibly, it was related to receiving free reforms and an upgrade on an apartment in a beachside building in Guarujá, São Paulo, but they had no proof that Lula or his family had ever spent the night there. They had no proof that reforms were ever made there. And most importantly, the deed was never registered in Lula’s or any of his family's names. So not only had he never really been there, I mean, they visited the building once, they'd never like spent any time there, not only had reforms never taken place, but they had no proof that they own the place. The place was registered in a construction company’s name.
Also, the alleged gift of these reforms and upgrading [the property] allegedly took place after [Lula] left office. So, it was impossible to prove any kind of quid pro quo either. So, in the ruling against Lula, Judge Sergio Moro said, "we don't have any, we don't have enough material evidence to specify what the crime was, but I have a strong conviction that Lula has done something wrong". That was basically the sentence, and it's been thrown out now because of illegal forum shopping. The apartment, allegedly owned - but not proven in any way - by Lula, is located in São Paulo state. But he was tried, not only for this alleged crime but for two others, in a neighbouring state, in a neighbouring district court, in the City of Curitiba, which had no jurisdiction. It was forum shopped to a jurisdiction that they knew was working in partnership with the US DoJ. What they did to be able to move the case to Curitiba was [to make] a frivolous accusation that this was connected somehow to the Petrobras state petroleum company, which operates nationally.
But we now have Telegram conversations showing them talking about how they knew there was no connection and they were even joking, like, "as long as he's filled up his tank with gasoline, from a BR petrol station, this is enough to connect it to Petrobras". They were laughing about it on Telegram. So, the minute the case was transferred into this other district that was working in partnership with the US DoJ, they dropped the Petrobras charge and Lula's defence filed a motion to dismiss in 2016, for lack of jurisdiction. They have explained this in every press conference since, but the Anglo media kept repeating this lie, that Lula was tied up in a graft scheme with Petrobras, even up to the eve of his political imprisonment in 2018. So, that's why it was thrown out eventually. The Supreme Court recognised the fact that this court had absolutely zero jurisdiction over any of the cases Lula had been charged with in Lavato Jato. So, what happened is they mounted frivolous charges, forum shopped them to a district that was working together with the US DoJ, and destroyed the chances of a non-fascist government in 2018 by removing the leading candidate from the election based on frivolous charges that have now been thrown out. [Lula] can't get back those 580 days he spent illegally in prison, and Brazil is going to take a long time to recover from the damage caused by this US-backed operation which put [President Jair] Bolsonaro in power.
Sputnik: So the Supreme Court dismissed the charges and invalidated the conviction on the basis that it was illegally forum shopped, but not based on corruption between the judge and the prosecutors or state malfeasance?
Brian Mier: No, to the contrary. What they did do, though, was they admitted the evidence of the six terabytes of leaked Telegram conversations. They're allowing the defence team to use that as evidence. But the reason the case was thrown out was for forum shopping. And a lot of people think it was being done to protect [Judge] Sergio Moro and Chief [Lava Jato] Prosecutor Delton Dallagnol from a criminal investigation that was underway in the Supreme Court, connected to Lava Jato. Because we know, once again, from these Telegram conversations that the prosecution considered the [Supreme Court] justice who made this ruling [invalidating Lula’s conviction], Edson Fachin, to be on their team, in their pocket. There's a Telegram message where Delton Dallagnol was kind of like yelling and going, "woo-hoo Fachin is ours", from the time that Lula was arrested. So, in a way, it was just like damage control by the Supreme Court, they're trying to protect themselves. And also, they're trying to protect themselves from more and more incriminating leaks coming out now from these Telegram conversations. But de facto, it ended up benefiting Lula and Brazilian democracy.
Sputnik: How significant is the court's decision on Lula's case and will there be wider ramifications for the country as a whole?
Brian Mier: Definitely wider ramifications. And I'll give you the first example right now. Once Lula's political rights were restored, he gave this historic three-hour press conference last Wednesday in which he just ripped into the federal government and the Bolsonaro administration’s criminal mishandling of the COVID-19 [pandemic]. He said, "unlike our president, I believe the Earth is round. I don't believe [Hydroxychloroquine]… or in any other miracle cures". And as a result, immediately afterwards, Bolsonaro gave a press conference on Facebook Live, [during] which he put a globe on the table to show that he doesn't believe the Earth is flat, even though he's made comments to that effect. And he was wearing a mask for the first time in weeks, and now it looks like his health minister is on the way out. He announced that he wants to resign with his entire team [on 14 March 2021]. We don't know if Bolsonaro is going to let him resign or not, but, the way it's playing out, it looks like the health minister is resigning and most analysts believe this is a direct result of Lula's press conference last Wednesday.
[Lula] is leading in all of the polls for the presidency next year, and he also has the lowest rejection rate of any of the 10 top candidates. This is something that's not been properly reported in the English-language media. They're lying about him having this really high rejection rate, which is untrue. And he's 13 points ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls. And so even if he decides not to run, he is going to be a major political force next year. If he doesn't run himself, the candidate he supports will probably win the election. If there are free and fair elections, if there's not some kind of fascist clampdown.
*This article has been edited for clarity and concision.