On Wednesday, September 21, attorneys Valeska Teixeira and Cristiano Zanin Martins from the Brazilian law firm Teixeira & Martins Advogados met with a small group of scholars, legal professionals, labor advocates, and activists to discuss the future of Teixeira-Martins client Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Da Silva, better known simply as Lula, served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. He left office with an astounding 83% approval rating, having implemented social policies which, in combination with an economic boom, raised a quarter of the world’s fifth most populous state out of poverty over little more than a decade.
However, Wednesday’s gathering was no celebration. Barely a day prior, a lawsuit alleging that Lula engaged in corruption and money laundering was filed in the country’s top federal criminal court. This move comes a month after Lula was charged in August for obstructing investigations in the ongoing “Car Wash” kickback scandal at state oil company Petrobras, which has implicated more than half of the Brazilian legislature and seen even some of Brasilia’s most firmly entrenched expelled.
And, of course, the accusations come only a few weeks after Lula’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached on highly contested charges that she violated budgetary laws. In short, September has been an unpleasant month for Lula and Dilma’s Worker’s Party (PT).
But what has already drawn such individuals as esteemed human rights lawyer and former-UN jurist Geoffrey Robertson to Lula’s case was not a fascination with the apparent acceleration towards rule of law in Brazil — Lula is the highest-ranking figure yet tried in the investigation. Rather, it was quite the opposite: he believes Lula is suffering “monumental abuses of human rights.”
Robertson points first to the structure of the Car Wash investigation itself. Federal District judge Sérgio Moro, in whose jurisdiction the original findings fell, has spearheaded the case through atypical means. Taking after and even vocally praising the Italian “Clean Hands” anti-corruption operation — whose many convictions were not only inconsequential against corruption but often rashly misdirected — Moro has used pre-trial detentions to extricate plea bargains from those never implicated, as well as from those found guilty, in exchange for release.
Those testimonies are often dubious, yet Moro continues to base his crusade upon them. One on which the latest case against Lula is based was nullified before the case’s acceptance, but still, the case proceeds.
A second concern of Robertson’s is the investigation’s disregard for privacy — a human right as affirmed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Phone taps, like in many states, have been used to find evidence against politicians across the political spectrum in Brazil. But what is unique has been Moro’s keenness to share information and opinions with and even release recordings to the media — including a conversation between Lula and Dilma captured after the warrant for wiretapping Lula had expired. After the Brazilian supreme court (STF) ruled that the legality of the recording (among others) should be reviewed, the case was sent to Moro, as he effectively judged himself.
Most troublesome to Robertson is Moro’s position both as investigator and trial judge of Car Wash cases and Lula’s still unrelated case. Not just is there a lack of traditional separation between the roles, but Moro has repeatedly and explicitly accused Lula based entirely on speculation for more than a year — clearly ill-suited to offer impartial judgement. Even more, there will be no jury present as one is not required in this instance under Brazilian law. Moro will be the sole determiner of Lula’s fate.
These are the arguments Teixeira & Martins plan to present to the UN Human Rights Council once their original petition asking for Moro to be removed from Lula’s case, filed in July of this year, is processed. By then, though Moro will likely have already made his ruling, they hope to have built up enough support throughout global press and politics to pressure the Brazilian state into throwing out the guilty verdict even Lula’s law team admits is inevitable. They just hope it will be in time for Lula’s anticipated run for president in 2018 — he currently leads the polls even despite having seen his approval ratings plummet since he left office.
Teixeira & Martins are not only hopeful that the UNHRC will prove sympathetic, but certain that, at least in the instance currently under deliberation, Lula is innocent, and clearly so. The central allegation is that he exchanged political favors with one of the construction firms implicated in Car Wash for money which he laundered through the purchase and renovation of a beach flat. His lawyers contend, however, that Lula only toured the flat, but never decided to buy it. The firm in question did perform the renovations described, but the flat was never Lula’s, they insist — neither legally nor practically.