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LATIN AMERICA

Brazilian judge blocks ex-president Lula’s appointment as minister

Magistrate places precautionary suspension on former leader joining government

Lula embraces Rousseff at his swearing-in ceremony on Thursday.
Lula embraces Rousseff at his swearing-in ceremony on Thursday. AFP

A Brazilian judge has placed a precautionary block on former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s appointment as the country’s new minister of the Civil House – a post similar to a chief of staff – in the government of his successor Dilma Rousseff.

Brasilia Federal Court Magistrate Itagiba Catta Preta Neto is concerned that the appointment of Lula da Silva, who has accusations of corruption hanging over him, could obstruct judicial investigations.

Brazilian ministers can only be judged by the Supreme Federal Court and have immunity from lower tribunals.

The judge is concerned that the appointment of Lula da Silva could obstruct judicial investigations

In his ruling, which responds to a popular petition, the judge argued that if Lula da Silva took up the role of Civil House minister – a post he accepted before President Rousseff on Thursday – he would have the power to carry out “wrongful and hateful intervention” in the police force, public prosecution service and judiciary.

The Democrats and the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), the latter a former ally of the government, have also said they will appeal the appointment in the courts.

The judge added that Rousseff may herself have committed a crime of “liability” in appointing Lula da Silva, given that the law prevents the president from carrying out acts against the “honesty” of the public administration. A liability crime is one of the offenses stated in the Constitution that provides grounds for a political trial with the aim of dismissing a head of state. The Chamber of Deputies is on Thursday due to renew its discussion of Rousseff’s possible impeachment.

On Wednesday Brazilian police released revelations of a tapped telephone conversation between Workers’ Party (PT) leader Rousseff and Lula da Silva, in which the former tells her political mentor that he will soon be receiving a copy of his appointment for him to sign “in case of need.”

Investigators saw this as evidence that Rousseff was trying to help out her party colleague in the event that Judge Sérgio Moro, who is overseeing the massive Petrobras corruption investigation, should order prison for Lula da Silva.

The judge said Rousseff may herself have committed a crime in appointing Lula da Silva

But the government said the document was sent just in case Lula da Silva could not be present at Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony for the new ministers.

The decision to air the conversation represents a major offensive against the government by investigators in the Petrobras case, most particularly by Judge Moro, who has become a national symbol of the fight against corruption.

The polarization is growing in Brazil and the tensions even reached Lula da Silva’s Thursday swearing-in ceremony when someone interrupted the start of proceedings with a shout of “Shame!”

On Wednesday night thousands had marched in São Paulo and Brasilia against the PT and in favor of the anti-corruption investigations.

Just three days before, Brazil witnessed the largest demonstrations in the country’s democratic history to demand an end to corruption, the resignation of Rousseff, and prison for Lula da Silva.

English version by Nick Funnell.

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