The sad end of Operation Lava Jato

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By RAFAEL VALIM*

Everything was strategically woven to achieve political and personal purposes.

The plot was predictable. The actors, sufferable. Even so, crowds flocked to the theater and not only applauded that unusual show, but also harshly harassed those who criticized it. Nothing could get in the way of that apotheotic moment.

After years of intense exhibition, the theater of Operation Lava Jato approaches a melancholy end. In the name of “combating” corruption, it resulted in the biggest scandal in the Brazilian Justice System.

Recent revelations of messages exchanged by the application Telegram between members of the Public Prosecutor's Office and the then judge Sergio Moro account for a profusion of illegalities committed against numerous defendants, including former President Lula. Combination of procedural acts between the prosecution and the judge, guidance from the judge to the prosecution, use of precautionary prisons as a means of torture to obtain plea bargains, monitoring of lawyers, illegal breaches of tax secrecy, disrespect for jurisdictional rules, dealings with public agents foreigners outside official channels, articulation of procedural acts with the press, including illegal leaks of information, are some of the examples that we can point out.

To any reasonable observer, such revelations do not exactly sound like a novelty, but it is necessary to recognize that the details of the conversations between the members of Operation Lava Jato are impressive due to their absolute disregard for the most common principles that inform a State of Law. Everything was strategically woven to achieve political and personal purposes. The roles of investigator, accuser, judge merged into a highly dangerous lace-fist authoritarianism, camouflaged in the hermeticism of legal language.

Some of the results of Operation Lava Jato are already widely known. Deep shock to the national economy, notably the infrastructure market, removal of a President of the Republic without the occurrence of a crime of responsibility and the rise of a populist leader to head the Executive Branch.

However, another serious consequence of the Operation is revealed, namely, a setback in the structures that effectively help to face corruption in Brazil. Suffice it to mention the successive attacks on the law on access to public information in recent years. Ironically, therefore, the “heroes” of the fight against corruption may turn out to be the heroes of the corrupt.

Now all attention is focused on the Federal Supreme Court. Elements remain for the annulment of several Operation Lava Jato processes, but the concern with the historical image that the powerful always free themselves from the clutches of Justice already echoes.

It is true that the collapse of Operation Lava Jato frustrates the legitimate expectations of all Brazilians to live in a serious, upright country, free from the scourge of corruption. The rule of law, however, does not allow shortcuts. Operation Lava Jato will succumb to its own mistakes and it should be so, so that we no longer have adventures of the same nature.

* Rafael Valim, lawyer, holds a PhD in Administrative Law from PUC-SP, where he taught from 2015 to 2018. Author, among other books, of Lawfare: an introduction (with Cristiano Zanin and Valeska Zanin Martins) (Editora Contracurrent).

 

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