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Brazil’s president-elect makes controversial justice minister appointment

Sergio Moro is wildly popular among conservatives and loathed by many on the left.


Judge Sergio Moro as he exits a meeting with President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Judge Sergio Moro as he exits a meeting with President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

The Brazilian judge at the centre of one of the largest corruption investigations in history has said he would become justice minister in the government of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

Sergio Moro is wildly popular among conservatives and loathed by many on the left, so his decision to join the incoming administration will feed the suspicion of many Brazilians that the judge was politically biased in jailing ex-President Luiz Inacio da Silva, a conviction that forced the poll-leading leftist out of the presidential race.

Mr Moro met with Mr Bolsonaro at the president-elect’s home in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. Upon emerging, Mr Moro did not speak to reporters but soon put out a statement confirming he had accepted an offer to lead both the justice and public security ministries, which will be combined in Mr Bolsonaro’s government.

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Jair Bolsonaro is Brazil’s president-elect (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Mr Moro said it would be hard to give up being a federal judge after 22 years, but he saw an opportunity to “implement a strong agenda of anti-corruption and anti-organised crime” in his new role.

“In practice, this will mean consolidating the advancements against crime and corruption the last years and remove any risks of going backward,” he wrote.

He added that the sprawling “Car Wash” investigation would continue in the hands of local judges in the southern city of Curitiba, where Mr Moro lives and many of the cases have been tried. He also said he would provide more details on his new role next week.

Launched in 2014, the “Car Wash” probe uncovered elaborate schemes in which construction companies received bloated contracts and then kicked back billions of dollars in bribes to politicians and other government officials over more than a decade.

The scandal has reverberated across several Latin American countries where Odebrecht, one of the companies at the centre of the scandal, did business.

The investigation has led to the jailing of many of the country’s biggest names. That list includes da Silva, convicted by Mr Moro of corruption for trading favours with construction company Grupo OAS for the promise of a beachfront apartment. Da Silva began serving a 12-year sentence in April.

The cases made Mr Moro a wildly popular figure with Brazilians exhausted by numerous stories of politicians plundering government coffers.

However, many of his tactics have been highly controversial, such as the use of extended pre-trial detentions and plea bargains, both aimed at getting high-profile suspects to talk.

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