Pope Francis, in a June speech, denounced the misuse of judicial powers against perceived enemies, saying that “lawfare” is “generally employed to undermine emerging political systems,” and puts democracy at serious risk.
The judges in the audience from his native South America are likely to have guessed exactly what he was talking about. Over the past few years, a growing anti-corruption crusade exposed shocking levels of graft across the continent and rocked the political systems of a half a dozen countries. While the investigations—the most important of which is Brazil’s Lava Jato, or “Car Wash”—initially enjoyed widespread support, it became clear that the line between legal and political goals was blurred. Most famously, Sérgio Moro, the judge in the Car Wash case, ordered the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, removing the front-runner from Brazil’s 2018 election. Moro then took a position as hugely powerful “super justice minister” in the far-right administration of ultimately victorious Jair Bolsonaro, one of the most extreme figures in global electoral politics.
But if the pope had reason to worry in June, all of Latin America now has reason to be horrified. Over the past few months, private messages initially leaked to The Intercept Brasil have pointed to serious wrongdoing and abuse of power at the heart of Lava Jato, and the revelations keep coming. It is now apparent that Moro was not acting as impartial judge, but actively conspiring with the prosecution to make sure Lula, as the popular center-left former president is widely known, was put behind bars. The prosecution presented evidence against him despite knowing it was weak; Moro gave the team tips on how to go after Lula and attack him in the press. The most recent of many explosive reports indicate prosecutors coordinated to put pressure on Brazil’s Supreme Court, including by looking for evidence to use against one prominent court justice.