Large anti-government protests broke out in Brazil as President Dilma Rousseff’s bid to salvage her government by naming Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as chief of staff appeared to backfire.
Only hours after Rousseff on Wednesday afternoon said she was bringing Lula to the government for his merit and not to shield him from a corruption probe, Federal Judge Sergio Moro released phone recordings that critics say suggest otherwise. The conversation between Rousseff and Lula, obtained through a police wire tap, aired on television and sparked demonstrations in the nation’s capital, Brasilia, and the country’s largest city, Sao Paulo.
In one of the recordings, Rousseff said she was sending Lula a document confirming his appointment to her cabinet and that he should use it only when needed. The conversation increased speculation that Rousseff was protecting her predecessor, as ministers have special legal status and can only be indicted by the Supreme Court. In another chat with Rousseff’s former chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, Lula asked for the president to intervene with a Supreme Court justice on his behalf.
“I’m shocked,” former Supreme Court Justice Carlos Velloso told Globo TV. “The dialogue is quite compromising.”
The presidential palace criticized Moro’s decision to publish the recordings, saying it was an affront to the rights and guarantees given to the head of state. Lula’s lawyer Cristiano Zanin said on GloboNews that the judge is trying to cause social upheaval, without commenting on the content of the discussions.
Prosecutors had sought a warrant for Lula’s arrest after charging him last week with money laundering and making false declarations. A state judge who was considering the request deferred the decision to Moro on Monday. The former president has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Rousseff told reporters on Wednesday that she nominated Lula to bolster her government as it tries to revive the economy, denying allegations she was protecting him from Moro. “I don’t understand, when people talk about this case, they create this theory” that Lula is hiding from the investigation, she said. “Let’s be frank here. Lula strengthens my government, and there’s people who don’t want him to do that.”