There are, however, reasons to believe that Carwash—driven not by ideology, but by moralistic zeal—had it out for Lula. Sérgio Moro, Carwash’s lead judge, is another champion of the anti-corruption movement. In March 2016, then-President Rousseff appointed Lula to her cabinet. Moro reacted by releasing a secretly recorded conversation in which she implied that the purpose of the appointment was to shield Lula, her mentor and ally, from prosecution. For exposing a private conversation with a sitting president, Moro was reprimanded by a Supreme Court justice. But another justice blocked Lula’s appointment, and he was soon indicted. Rafael Mafei, a law professor at the University of São Paulo, was among those to suggest that Moro should be removed from the case. “Personally, I don’t have confidence in Moro’s impartiality to judge Lula,” he said. Still, it was Moro who handed down Lula’s conviction in July last year.
Legal experts also found problems in Moro’s ruling itself. Documents and testimony left little doubt that Lula received an expensively renovated beachfront apartment from a contractor that paid bribes to the Workers' Party. But the apartment had not even been built when Lula left office. Fábio Tofic Simantob, an attorney who leads a defendants’-rights organization, said Moro had failed to convincingly link the apartment to Lula’s role as president—a link that must exist in order for favor to be classified as bribe. “Is it questionable, reprehensible, morally condemnable for an ex-president to accept a gift from a contractor?” Tofic wrote. “If true, it seems censurable to us. But not a crime, at least not according to Brazilian law.”
The problems didn’t stop with Moro. Just one day after Lula’s conviction, an appeals court promised to review his case prior to the 2018 election (apparently because, according to Brazilian law, a candidate is barred from seeking office only when his conviction is upheld by a higher court). No one expected an acquittal: Months before the decision, the chief appeals judge told a reporter that while he had not read the case evidence, he found Moro’s ruling “technically irreproachable.” Lênio Streck, a law professor and former prosecutor, said this statement violated ethics rules that ban judges from commenting on open cases. No matter: The decision came on January 24, faster than in any other Carwash appeal.
In his ruling, Moro cited the 17th-century English writer Thomas Fuller: “Be you never so high, the law is above you.” Lula should not be spared from prosecution just because he’s popular. But if a public figure is to be removed from politics without a vote, the case should be bulletproof.
Adriano Pilatti, a law professor at the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro, pointed out that all this reckless expediency only fuels Lula’s claim that the case against him is politically motivated. It also lends a veneer of democratic credibility to political machinations against Carwash. In Congress, Lula’s Workers’ Party has surreally teamed up with Temer’s coalition to rein in the power of prosecutors.