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Brazil's Justice Minister Sergio Moro resigned after the president removed the Federal Police chief from office without his consent.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro suffered the heaviest blow to his presidency so far as his well-known justice minister quit Friday and accused him of potential criminal meddling in law enforcement, adding to the turmoil of a government struggling to confront a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak.
Former judge Sergio Moro, who gained notoriety in the anti-corruption investigation, Lava Jato, resigned as Justice Minister because Bolsonaro fired federal police chief Mauricio Valeixo, according to him, for personal and political reasons.
In a live televised speech, Moro included a series of devastating accusations against the president, who has yet to explain why he wanted Valeixo out.
Moro said Bolsonaro had expressed concern about Supreme Court investigations, without giving further details, and he wanted inside information from his top cop.
"The president emphasized to me, explicitly, more than once, that he wanted someone who was a personal contact, whom he could call, from whom he could get information, intelligence reports," Moro said. "And really, it's not the job of the federal police to give that information."
For his part, on Friday afternoon, Bolsonaro in a 45-minute speech, the longest of his term, rejected the minister's accusations and denied having requested confidential information from the federal police, while accusing him of blackmail.
Without a doubt, the shocking exit and allegations from the minister were a hammer blow for Bolsonaro, whose popularity had already slumped for downplaying the novel coronavirus as a "little cold." The virus has taken more than 3,600 lives in Brazil, and experts say the peak has yet to come.
Several analysts say that the grave allegations against Bolsonaro are likely to expose him to serious political and even legal risks, as several members of Congress believe that he could be impeached.
The fired federal police chief Mauricio Valeixo was the Federal Police superintendent in the city of Curitiba, where, along with then-judge Sergio Moro, they spearheaded the controversial investigation, the Lava Jato, or "Car Wash" operation. It was Valeixo's responsibility, for example, to oversee former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva transport to jail, in April 2018.
However, one of Moro's most significant defeats as justice minister, was the Supreme Court's overturning of a decision allowing for incarcerations before all appeals were exhausted, in Nov. of last year. This decision led to the release of former president Lula, who had been sentenced to jail by Moro, without substantial evidence against him.
During his time as Justice Minister, Sergio Moro also became embroiled in the investigative reporting series "Vaza Jato," published by the Intercept Brasil and partners since June of last year, which showed that the resigned magistrate acted with partiality in the Lava Jato operation.
Moro denied these accusations. At the time, Bolsonaro stood by his minister, however, indicated to the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that there was no such thing as "100% trust."