The top Car Wash prosecutor leaked sensitive information to a Brazilian reporter with motives that could jeopardize the task force’s convictions.
Brazil’s chief prosecutor overseeing its sweeping anti-corruption probe, Deltan Dallagnol, lied to the public when he vehemently denied in a 2017 interview with BBC Brasil that his prosecutorial task force leaked secret information about investigations to achieve its ends.
In fact, in the months preceding his false claim, Dallagnol was a participant in secret chats exclusively obtained by The Intercept, in which prosecutors plotted to leak information to the media with the goal of manipulating suspects by making them believe that their indictment was imminent even when it was not, in order to intimidate them into signing confessions that implicated other targets of the investigation.
Critics of the so-called Car Wash investigation — which imprisoned dozens of Brazilian elites including, most significantly, the center-left ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when he was leading all polls to win the 2018 presidential election (ultimately won by Jair Bolsonaro after Lula was barred) — long suspected that the prosecutorial team was responsible for numerous media reports that revealed sensitive details about suspects targeted by the investigations.
Dallagnol and his team always publicly, even angrily, denied this. Yet the Secret Brazil Archive obtained by The Intercept, which we began reporting on June 9, contains numerous instances of the prosecutorial team planting exactly the sorts of leaks they repeatedly denied involvement in — often with motives that rendered the outcome legally questionably, if not outright illegal.
One illustrative example came relatively early in the investigation. On June 21, 2015, in a Telegram group for task force members, the Car Wash prosecutor Orlando Martello Júnior asked one of his colleagues, Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima: “what is the strategy for revealing the next steps in the cases of Electrobras, etc.?” Santos Lima replied that while he did not know what specifically his colleague was referring to, “my leaks are always designed to cause them to think that investigations are inevitable and thus incentivize them to collaborate.”
According to Brazilian law of criminal prosecutions (which provides rules governing confessions as part of plea bargains), a plea bargain can be accepted only if it has been offered “voluntarily.” But the prosecutor admitted to his colleagues that he used media leaks to forge an intimidating environment and, with that, could obtain confessions through manipulative means. These actions are squarely at odds with what are required to be the voluntary nature of confessions and plea bargains.
In the chat, Santos Lima boasted, without any embarrassment, that he “leaked” information to the press. In addition, his comment implied that this was a customary practice, since it referred to the plural: “my leaks.” And the prosecutor stated with apparent pride that he did so with well-defined objectives: to use fear of indictments in order to induce suspects to act in the prosecutors’ own interests by “collaborating.”
Notably, the prosecutor’s boast of these types of leaks did not elicit any objections from the other Car Wash prosecutors. Throughout the conversations, the rest of the group remained silent, suggesting that leaks of this type were far from unusual.
On the same day, the task force’s chief prosecutor, Dallagnol, along with Martello, announced in the chat that — in order to pressure the suspect — they had leaked information to a reporter with the right-wing newspaper Estadão that the U.S. government would help investigate Freiburghaus. They were expecting that this media leak would advance their investigation by pressuring Freiburghaus. It was Dallagnol who was personally responsible for the leak, as shown in his secret conversation with the newspaper reporter (The Intercept has translated the Portuguese conversations into English).
As the conversation progressed, the reporter advised that the story about U.S. aid in the Odebrecht case (which was not formalized at the time) would be the Estadão headline the next day.
Back in the prosecutor’s Telegram chat group, a conversation between June 21 and 22 detailed the task force’s intentions toward Freiburghaus:
The information leaked by the Car Wash prosecutorial task force was indeed the newspaper headline, and the methods of pressure imposed on the investigative source were resumed shortly thereafter in the same chat:
At the end of the day, the strategy failed, as Freiburghaus never provided any plea bargain or cooperation.
Beyond the use of media leaks to intimidate and manipulate confessions, what makes all of this particularly incriminating is that Dallagnol has publicly, and vehemently, denied that Car Wash prosecutors have ever used any leaks, claiming that all the leaks about Car Wash came instead from defense attorneys and their clients. In the interview with BBC Brasil following a speech he gave at Harvard Law School in April 2017, Dallagnol said that “public officials do not leak information — the loophole is inevitable access to secret data by defendants and their clients.” When asked directly if the task force had leaked, the chief prosecutor replied, “In cases where only public officials had access to the data, the information did not leak.”
Responding to inquiries from The Intercept about this story, the press spokesperson for the Car Wash task force denied that the prosecutors had ever leaked information to Estadão, insisting that it “never leaked sensitive information to the press, contrary to what the questioning suggests.” To justify this denial, the task force argues that information passed to the press must violate the law or a court order to be characterized as a “leak.” Using this newly created definition of “leak,” the task force argues that the material sent by Dallagnol to Estadão did not, in its view, violate either the law or any court order and therefore, cannot be accurately described as a “leak.”
“Is there any chance to release the news to GOL?”
But The Intercept’s reporting here does not claim or suggest that Dallagnol or Santos Lima committed a crime or violated court orders by leaking information that was not known to the public. The point of the reporting is that the prosecutors did exactly what Dallagnol told the BBC they never did: namely, leaked inside information about investigations of which the public and the media were unaware in order to advance their investigative goals.
To defend Dallagnol from this clear evidence that he lied, the task force is trying to invent a new definition of “leak,” a meaning that only considers an act to be a “leak” if it entails a violation of the law or a court order. But that, to put it generously, is not a commonly recognized understanding of what leaking means. Indeed, in his interview with the BBC, Dallagnol did not deny that the task force illegally leaked. He denied that the task force used leaks of any kind — “public officials do not leak information,” he said, adding: “In cases where only public agents had access to the data, the information did not leak.”
The task force’s insistence that it never used leaks is especially bizarre given that Santos Lima himself boasted that he did just that, using the word “leak” to describe his own actions: “my leaks are always designed to cause them to think that investigations are inevitable and thus incentive them to collaborate,” he wrote, demonstrating that even the prosecutors themselves do not understand leaks to have the definition they are now trying to impose on it. Moreover, in his conversation with the Estadão reporter, Dallagnol himself described the information he was sending about the proposed collaboration with the U.S. as “new” and for this reason, insisted that the information he sent could only be published if they keep “my name off” the record.” If the information published was already public, as the Car Wash task force is now claiming through its spokesperson, why would Dallagnol insist on anonymity?
Thus, the task force’s denial that prosecutors did exactly what Dallagnol falsely insisted they never did — leaking information that was not known to the public — is contradicted by the prosecutors’ own words, as posted in the chat above, in which they themselves describe their actions as “leaks.” It is also negated by Dallagnol’s insistence to the Estadão reporter that information passed to the paper should not be attributed to him. It is further refuted by other repeated episodes in which prosecutors admit to leaking information about investigations to the media, often using specifically the word “leaks” that they now seek to redefine.
These leaks were not isolated cases. In 2016, Car Wash prosecutors spoke explicitly about their use of “selective leaking” to the media intended to influence and manipulate a rumored petition for habeas corpus from former Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha, to be filed in the Supreme Court:
These dialogues prove that Dallagnol lied to the BBC when he denied the use of leaks. That denial came after Dallagnol participated in several conversations in which his task force colleagues explicitly discussed doing what he publicly denied: namely, promoting leaks and using the media for their own interests. Ironically, Dallagnol himself pointed out to the BBC how complex the task of proving leaks was because, according to him, those involved always deny it.
“It is very difficult to identify the point (source of the leak), because if you listen to these people, they will deny it,” he said. Indeed they do. That’s precisely what Dallagnol and his colleagues spent years doing falsely — until the truth was finally revealed through the publication of their own words.
João Felipe Linhares has contributed research to this article.
A massive trove of previously undisclosed materials provides unprecedented insight into the operations of the anti-corruption task force that transformed Brazilian politics and gained worldwide attention.