“Operation Car Wash” put President Lula da Silva in jail for embezzling billions in public money, but it has been also accused of political bias.
Brazil‘s Supreme Court weakened one of the country’s largest corruption investigations on Wednesday, excluding all evidence obtained through plea deals with executives of construction company Odebrecht.
The company — now renamed Novonor — was at the heart of a billion-dollar corruption scandal that put several businessmen and politicians behind bars, including Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Corruption probe tainted by accusations of partiality
Lula, who first served as president of Brazil between 2003 and 2011 and was elected again in 2022, spent 580 days in prison for embezzlement and money laundering. His conviction – which was later annulled — was partly based on evidence given by Odebrecht executives.
The UN Human Rights Committee said last year the corruption case against Lula violated his political rights. “Operation Car Wash” has been criticized by Lula and supporters of his leftist PT party as being politically motivated.
In 2019, leaked conversations showed that judges and public prosecutors had unlawfully collaborated on the case. The task force handling the investigation was disbanded in 2021.
Lula’s conviction historic mistake, says judge
With his ruling on Wednesday, Justice Antonio Dias Toffoli reacted to a request made by Lula’s legal defense team.
Toffoli was appointed by Lula during his first term but previously ruled against the leftist president by refusing Lula’s early release from prison in 2018.
In a turn from his earlier position, Toffoli now wrote Lula’s imprisonment was “one of the worst judicial mistakes in the country’s history.”
“Any evidence gathered as part of Odebrecht’s 2017 plea agreement with prosecutors on the ‘Car Wash’ task force was “unusable in any jurisdiction,” Toffoli wrote.
Further review of corruption probe announced
Brazilian Senator Sergio Moro, who in his former position as a judge headed “Operation Car Wash,” defended the investigation as being within the law. “Corruption in the PT governments was real,” Moro said.
Reacting to the ruling, Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office announced that it would further investigate the actions of prosecutors and judges that led to Lula’s imprisonment.