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The fall from grace of Sergio Moro

Once idolized by many as a Brazilian hero, Sergio Moro miscalculated his resignation from the government and is now bound for the U.S.

With the hubris that can only come from a president who sees his future secure at the head of the Brazilian government, Jair Bolsonaro emphatically declared the end of the country’s sweeping Operation Car Wash anti-corruption investigation on Wednesday, claiming his administration is now above suspicion. “I do not want to end [Operation] Car Wash. I’ve already ended Car Wash, because there is no longer any corruption in the government,” he exclaimed, during a press address.

Beyond overlooking the numerous corruption investigations targeting his inner circle — including his sons and wife Michelle — this pontifical claim symbolized Mr. Bolsonaro’s turn toward the politics of cronyism, which he promised to end during his election campaign. In broader terms, it also symbolizes the end of Brazil’s zealous anti-corruption drive, embodied by Operation Car Wash.[restricted]

Perhaps the best example of this fall from grace of the country’s anti-corruption crusader class is the ruination of Operation Car Wash’s poster boy, former judge Sergio Moro.

For large sections of Brazil’s media class and the population at large, Sergio Moro became a national hero through his role leading Operation Car Wash. While his methods and alleged bias were often criticized, he became the face of the one aspect of the Car Wash years that the vast majority of society conceded as being overwhelmingly positive: the sense of absolute impunity among the upper echelons of Brazilian politics and business was no more. At the height of Operation Car Wash, influential politicians and business owners were facing prison sentences, something that was almost unimaginable before.

However, over six years on from his first involvement in Operation Car Wash and after having his name dragged through the muck by all sides of the political spectrum, Sergio Moro is packing his bags, ready to leave Brazil.

As reported by newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on Tuesday — and confirmed by The Brazilian Report — Sergio Moro plans to trade in his political career for academia, intending to lecture at an unspecified U.S. university. While the former Car Wash judge has yet to speak in public on the story, people close to him have affirmed that the move was a request of Mr. Moro’s wife, lawyer Rosângela Moro, who has told those close to the family that her husband “has given all he can to the country” and that he is not cut out for party politics “and its savage confrontations.”

There is a suggestion that Sergio Moro will now completely abandon his plans to run for president in the 2022 election, though other sources close to the ex-Justice Minister say it will be a temporary move, before returning to Brazil in two years’ time, banking on President Bolsonaro’s stock being weakened by that time.

Security is another factor weighing on Mr. Moro’s mind. It will soon have been six months since his acrimonious split with Jair Bolsonaro and abandoned his spot in the cabinet, meaning he will now lose his BRL 31,000 (USD 5,540) salary and the right to a Federal Police escort. 

The bigger they come, the harder they fall

After 12 years as a judge in Curitiba — four and a half of them spent in charge of Operation Car Wash — Sergio Moro abandoned his career as a magistrate and joined the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who invited him to serve as Justice Minister. With promises of being given autonomy to implant an anti-corruption agenda in the administration, Mr. Moro’s long-term future seemed sewn up: a few years in the cabinet, and then a seat on Brazil’s Supreme Court

However, Sergio Moro only remained in office for little over a year, resigning in April of this year while accusing President Bolsonaro of meddling with the Federal Police to safeguard his son, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, from corruption investigations.

The decision to leave the government was no doubt based on his belief that he was more popular than President Bolsonaro — a notion often repeated by the Brazilian press, who suspected the government would crumble once its anti-corruption totem jumped ship. This turned out to be a gross miscalculation, and the government’s supporters sided with the president, labeling their one-time hero as a traitor.


Indeed, despite gaining worldwide recognition for his role in Operation Car Wash, Sergio Moro was frequently criticized and undermined in the field of Brazilian politics and law. After The Intercept Brasil published a series of leaked messages from the Car Wash prosecution task force, showing Mr. Moro’s collaboration with — and often command over — prosecutors, he was accused of violating due legal process and currently faces cases in the Supreme Court that question his impartiality throughout Car Wash.

Furthermore, Sergio Moro has been repeatedly vilified by the Brazilian left, who accuse him of acting in a biased and potentially illegal manner to spur on the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, jail another former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and help elect Jair Bolsonaro.

So, having left the government, Mr. Moro had lost the widespread support from the right-wing, was unable to make peace with the left, and was ostracised in political life, with no obvious source of support. 

Discord and backtracking

The appointment of judge Kassio Nunes Marques to a soon-to-be-vacant seat on the Supreme Court represents the latest defeat for the Operation Car Wash anti-corruption movement, isolating Mr. Moro further. While the Supreme Court has made several decisions to void Car Wash cases, Congress is debating on laws that are wholly against what Mr. Moro had planned to do as Justice Minister.

On Twitter, Sergio Moro criticized Mr. Nunes’ nomination. “If Jair Bolsonaro does not appoint someone to the Supreme Court who is committed to the fight against corruption […] we will all know his true nature (and many already know),” he wrote. 

One follower asked the former Justice Minister if he knew about Mr. Bolsonaro’s “nature” when he accepted his cabinet invitation, to which the former judge replied “no.” He later deleted his post.

Moro out: Left and right celebrate

The news of Sergio Moro’s potential exodus was celebrated on social media by both the right and left. The former laud what they see as a fitting end to a “traitor,” while the latter revel in the irony of Mr. Moro leaving the country due to the very government he took part in and helped elect.

“Defenestrated by the far-right, neglected by the country’s renowned judges, unmasked as biased and without the old partnership with the media that promoted him, [Mr.] Moro is the image of decadence common among false heroes,” wrote one left-wing Twitter user.

However, one of the few demonstrations of support for Mr. Moro came from São Paulo state lawmaker Janaina Paschoal, famous for co-authoring the request that led to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. She expressed her solidarity with the former Justice Minister, but warned against his plan of leaving the country. 

“I perfectly understand his discouragement, Sergio Moro’s family has every right to want a bit of peace! But as a Brazilian who doesn’t say any other alternative, I ask that [Mr.] Moro and his wife think about facing another great challenge. They will have my support! Brazil needs a fourth way!” she wrote.

In Ms. Paschoal’s view, Sergio Moro would offer a voting alternative for the 2022 elections, beyond Jair Bolsonaro, a candidate from the left, or someone linked to the center.

Indeed, that the only political figure in his corner appears to be a fringe state lawmaker does not bode well for the future of a man who was once regarded as Brazil’s savior.[/restricted]

By Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.