Sergio Moro, the Brazilian judge who put some of the country’s most powerful business leaders and politicians behind bars, says there’s no end in sight for the country’s sprawling graft probe, known as Carwash.
Much remains to be done to combat corruption in Brazil, the 45-year-old judge said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. That includes eliminating special privileges politicians enjoy before the law and streamlining the judiciary to reduce delays and impunity. Yet so far Brazil is doing its share to overcome “shameful” systemic corruption, Moro said.
“The investigation has no expiration date,” he said. Moro last month ordered former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrested and imprisoned for corruption. “As long as evidence keeps coming, we’ll keep on doing our work. As judges and prosecutors, we don’t have an option.”
Moro rebutted the idea that prolonged uncertainty stemming from graft investigations is detrimental for Latin America’s largest economy, currently in a fragile recovery from a deep recession. Improving the rule of law, he argued, will make the economy more efficient and markets more transparent in the long-term.
“Investors should think about the broader picture, they should be happy because they’ll have a better place to invest” he said, drawing a comparison to the Watergate scandal in the U.S. “It brought political instability, but would it have been better to leave Richard Nixon at the presidency?”
Success in fighting corruption in Brazil also depends on changes in the law. Ending legal privileges that allow politicians to be tried only in the Supreme Court, where cases usually move slower, is a crucial step toward reducing impunity, Moro said. Another is ending the patronage system that puts politicians in charge of state-owned companies.
Asked about accusations by Lula supporters that his sentences were politically motivated, Moro said he always sought to respond with as much transparency in court as possible by making hearings and evidence available to the public. He said politicians from several parties were found guilty.
“If we were protecting someone, we did a terrible job. I’m very comfortable with my decisions,” Moro said.
Despite the magnitude and the pervasiveness of the graft unearthed by Carwash, Brazilians shouldn’t feel discouraged, but rather should take solace in the fact that corruption is finally being fought off, he said.
“Brazilians should be proud, they took to the streets to protest,” said the judge, whose supporters often portray him as a superhero and have suggested he run for president in the October election, an idea Moro brushed off as a “fantasy.”
Still, popular support helped him protect Carwash from its enemies and shoulder some of the pressure. Looking forward, he may at some point take time off to study law abroad, most likely in the U.S.
“I think it could be a good moment to get out of the heat,” he said.
— With assistance by Jose Enrique Arrioja