The fate of the corruption probe into Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is back in the hands of the controversial federal judge who leaked a private conversation between the Workers’ Party veteran and suspended President Dilma Rousseff after the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the wiretap cannot be used as evidence.
Lula, who has not ruled out running for president in 2018, is under investigation as part of the corruption probe known as Operation Car Wash for alleged crimes linked to the Petrobras state oil bribery and fraud scandal.
The Supreme Court took over the case in March after federal judge Sergio Moro gave the green light to the release of a taped conversation between Lula and Rousseff, leaked as alleged evidence that his appointment to her cabinet was a move to guard him from prosecution.
Rousseff’s office slammed the leak as illegal, while Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki removed Moro from the case over questions of legality in the investigations.
But Zavascki sent the case back to Moro on Monday with a decision that the wiretap is inadmissible as evidence since it was recorded after the warrant expired.
Investigators accuse Lula of owning a beachside apartment acquired through alleged involvement in a kickback and money laundering scheme. Lula denies he owns the property.
The news comes after a series of explosive wiretaps involving high-level opposition figures — including members of the installed government — recently revealed that Rousseff’s rivals wanted to oust her to evade prosecution by putting a stop to the anti-corruption investigations targeting them as part of Operation Car Wash.
Lula has not been convicted of any crime, but could face prosecution as investigations move forward under Moro.
The former president polled as the favored candidate for the 2018 presidential race in the most recent surveys published in Brazilian media with over 20 percent of the vote, while imposed interim President Michel Temer enjoyed just two percent of support. Local media have not published updated polls since Temer was installed over a month ago in a move widely condemned as an institutional coup.
If Lula is convicted, he would be barred from running in the next two elections. Temer has already been banned from running for public office for the next two election cycles — a fact that has not stopped him from being installed in the country’s top office.
Rousseff was suspended from office in a Senate vote on May 12 to make her face an impeachment trial over allegations of manipulating budget accounts. Recent wiretaps have solidified claims that the impeachment bid was a coup that involved opposition members plotting with the Supreme Court and military command to ensure her ouster.
While the two-thirds majority Senate vote in support of the impeachment trial suggested that support would be locked in for the final vote in the Senate, the recent shocking wiretap evidence of the coup plot may help to swing the vote in Rousseff’s favor.