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.
Justice Minister Moro and his defenders are trying to distract attention away from their own misconduct by fixating on the actions of those who revealed it.
When news emerged this week that the Federal Police had arrested four people accused of hacking the Telegram accounts of various Brazilian officials and providing some of that content to The Intercept, many of our readers asked: What effect will this have on the reporting that we have done and are continuing to do on this secret archive?
The answer, in one word: None.
The public interest in reporting this material has been obvious from the start. These documents revealed serious, systematic, and sustained improprieties and possible illegality by Brazil’s current Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro while he was a judge, as well as by the chief prosecutor of the Car Wash investigation, Deltan Dallagnol, and other members of that investigative task force. It was the Car Wash task force, which Moro presided over as a judge, that was responsible for prosecuting ex-President Lula da Silva and removing him from the 2018 election, paving the way for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to become president. The corruption exposed by our reporting was so serious, and so consequential, that even many of Moro’s most loyal supporters abandoned him and called for his resignation within a week of the publication of our initial stories.
As the revelations of corruption by Moro and Dallagnol grew — reported both by us and our journalistic partners in Brazil — those officials resorted to the tactics used by government officials everywhere when their improprieties are revealed in the press: They tried to distract attention away from their own misconduct by fixating on the actions of the source as well as the journalists who revealed their wrongdoing.
That is what Sergio Moro, exploiting his position as Bolsonaro’s minister of justice and public security, has been attempting to do for weeks. He and his defenders in Bolsonaro’s party constantly speak about the alleged crimes committed by our source and imply that the reporters and editors at The Intercept and other media outlets working with us are criminals and “accomplices” for the role we have played in exposing their corruption. Moro consistently refers to The Intercept’s reporters as “the allies of the hackers.”
And on July 27, Bolsonaro directly weighed in, with the scurrilous charge that Glenn Greenwald got married and adopted children in order to avoid deportation (his marriage occurred 14 years ago), and threatened Greenwald with imprisonment with the line, “He may take a cane here in Brazil.”
But despite their aggressive efforts, Moro and his defenders have been unable to obtain any evidence to support their insinuations that The Intercept did anything in this matter other than exercise our right to practice journalism, which is guaranteed and protected by the Brazilian Constitution.
At the end of last week, after Brazil’s Federal Police had announced the arrests, they released what they called the “confession” of the person they claim is the principal hacker who provided us with this material, Walter Delgatti Neto. After being interrogated for hours and allegedly “confessing” to the hacking, Delgatti Neto said in his official police statement that:
Because we have not only the right but the duty — under both the Constitution in Brazil and the code of ethics that governs our profession — to protect our sources, we have not and will not comment on the individuals accused by the Federal Police of having hacked into Telegram accounts and then providing information to our journalists.
But what we can confirm is that, as we have said emphatically from the beginning, the work we have done is classic public interest journalism: receiving authentic information that reveals serious wrongdoing by the country’s most powerful officials and then carefully and responsibly reporting it. Even the Federal Police’s account of what their suspect says aligns with what we have said from the start about our role.
When we published our first series of exposes on June 9, we included an editorial explaining the journalistic principles that guided our reporting of the archive and what our role was in obtaining it. We wrote:
Until now, the Car Wash prosecutors and Moro have carried out their work largely in secret, preventing the public from evaluating the validity of the accusations against them and the truth of their denials. That’s what makes this new archive so journalistically valuable: For the first time, the public will learn what these judges and prosecutors were saying and doing when they thought nobody was listening. …
The Intercept’s only role in obtaining these materials was to receive them from our source, who contacted us many weeks ago (long before the recently alleged hacking of Moro’s telephone) and informed us that they had already obtained the full set of materials and was eager to provide them to journalists.
When we received the archive, we asked ourselves two questions, the same two key questions journalists around the world ask when embarking on a story: 1) Can we determine that this material is authentic? and 2) Is it in the public interest to report it?
If the answer to those two questions is “yes” — as it was in this case — then we have not only the right but the duty to inform the public about it. That is what we have been doing since June 9 and will continue to do until all of the material in the public interest is reported. This is also why we opened our newsroom and archive to Brazilian journalistic partners, including the major newspaper Folha, the news magazine Veja, and others.
We were able to authenticate this material using the same methods that at least six other journalistic outlets used to authenticate it, many of which were the same methods used to authenticate the Snowden archive before reporting on it. They include comparing the contents to nonpublic material to determine that it was genuine; consulting with sources whose nonpublic knowledge aligned with its contents; and confirming with legal specialists that the highly intricate, nonpublic legal material could have been created only by someone with in-depth, inside knowledge of the Car Wash investigations. We were also able to see in the chats the prosecutors’ past conversations with our own reporters, and we found that they were authentic. The other journalists who had access to the material did the same check and came to the same conclusion: The chats are real.
If history is any indication, the attempt by Moro and his defenders to encourage the public to fixate on the actions of the alleged source rather than the content of our journalistic revelations about his misconduct will fail spectacularly. Much of the most important journalism of the last several decades was made possible by sources who illegally obtained vital information and furnished it to journalists. What history remembers is what the reporting revealed, not the actions of the sources who helped reveal it.
In 1971, a former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg stole tens of thousands of pages of top-secret documents proving that the U.S. government was lying to the American people about the Vietnam War. He gave those stolen documents to the New York Times and then to the Washington Post, both of which reported them. What people remember are the lies revealed by those stolen documents. To the extent Ellsberg is discussed, he is widely regarded as a hero for enabling this official deceit to be exposed by journalists.
Throughout the war on terror waged by the U.S. and its allies since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the largest media outlets in the West — the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC News, BBC, the Guardian — repeatedly received vital information from sources who risked prosecution to expose grave wrongdoing, such as torture, CIA black sites, and illegal domestic NSA spying. While a few authoritarian voices called for the imprisonment of the journalists who revealed those secrets, most regarded the reporting as vital and necessary, and all of those exposes received the top prizes of journalism, including the Pulitzer Prize.
The same was true of the reporting in 2013 and 2014 about the secret mass spying on the internet and entire populations around the world by the U.S. government and its allies — reporting that was enabled by documents unlawfully disseminated by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Dozens of media outlets around the world, including Globo in Brazil, were eager to use those illegally obtained documents to report on the secret spying by government officials because journalists understand that what matters is not the acts or motives of the source but the content of what the journalism reveals to the public.
And, of course, what history remembers most about that reporting are not the moral judgments by the U.S. government and its defenders about Edward Snowden’s actions. What matters — what history has recorded — is what the reporting revealed about the mass and indiscriminate invasions of privacy carried out in secret by security state agencies.
We have no doubt that Moro, Dallagnol, and their allies will continue to use the same tactics pioneered by Richard Nixon and his top aides against Daniel Ellsberg and other sources during the Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandals: namely, to focus public attention on the acts of those who revealed their corruption rather than on the corruption they themselves committed.
But we also have no doubt that these tactics will be no more successful in this case than they were in all these prior cases of crucial journalism over the last several decades. What matters to the public is what their most powerful leaders have done in secret. And that’s why a free press is so vital, so indispensable, to a healthy democracy: because only journalism that is independent of the government and unconstrained by corrupt officials can ensure that the public remains informed and aware of what their leaders are doing and that those officials are prevented from carrying out corrupt acts in secret.
Those are the principles on which The Intercept was founded in 2013. Those are the principles that have driven the reporting we have done from the inception of our news organization. And those are the principles that — with your help and support — will continue to drive our ongoing reporting of the Secret Brazil Archive.
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.
Deltan Dallagnol, the coordinator of Brazil’s Car Wash prosecutors, gave speeches to bankers organized by XP Investimentos and the big-data firm Neoway.
Private chats reveal the extent to which Deltan Dallagnol, coordinator of Brazil’s Car Wash anti-corruption task force, sought to personally profit from the fame generated by his high-profile work as a prosecutor, raising ethical questions and provoking disagreements with colleagues.
In March 2018, Dallagnol received more than $10,000 to give a speech to Neoway Tecnologia Integrada Assessoria e Negócios S.A., a big-data firm that was under investigation by Car Wash for potentially corrupt contracts with a state-controlled oil company.
Three months later, Dallagnol was the featured speaker at a secret, off-the-record event with the most influential banks and investors in Brazil, organized by investment firm XP Investimentos. It’s not clear if he was paid for the event, but his speaking agent, who works on commission, negotiated the agreement with XP. Invitees to the talk included at least three banks that had been investigated by Car Wash: Itaú, Santander, and Deutsche Bank. The investment firm engaged Dallagnol for two other speaking events — both were public and well paid.
In an apparent bid to convince Dallagnol to take on the off-the-record speaking gig, the XP representative told the prosecutor in the chats that Supreme Court Minister Luiz Fux had already participated in a similar off-the-record event “and nothing came out in the press,” adding that two other Supreme Court ministers had also been invited to give private talks. Fux did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment and the other two ministers, Alexandre de Moraes and Luís Roberto Barroso, denied participation in such events.
“Nothing came out in the press.”
The topic of the series of XP talks that Dallagnol and Fux participated in was the Car Wash investigation and the national elections that were scheduled to take place later that year. Invited guests included representatives from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Merrill Lynch, Citibank, UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Natixis, Société Générale, Standard Chartered, State Street, Macquarie Capital, TD Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Itaú, Bradesco, Santander, Verde Asset Management, and Nomura Holdings.
Dallagnol also brought with him Guilherme Donega, a Brazil-based consultant for the anti-corruption advocacy organization Transparency International. The group has close ties with the Car Wash task force and partnered with Dallagnol and colleagues on their New Measures Against Corruption initiative, a proposal for anti-corruption reforms.
In a statement, Transparency International said that Donega spoke about the New Measures initiative and was not paid for his participation. Responding to a question about the ethics of paid speaking engagements by prosecutors, the organization said that “activities of any kind — even private ones — that may compromise the integrity, fairness and impartiality necessary for the function they perform should be avoided.” The group added that, in uncertain situations, the relevant authorities should be consulted in advance.
Earlier this month, The Intercept revealed plans by Dallagnol and a colleague to open an agency to organize speaking events and courses. “Let’s organize congresses and events and make a profit, okay? It’s a good way to take advantage of our networking and visibility,” Dallagnol wrote in a chat to his wife last December.
To get around rules that restrict prosecutors from managing businesses, the prosecutors decided to bring in their wives to administer the agency. There is no evidence that the project ever got off the ground, but that did not stop the prosecutor from taking in a considerable profit: In a private chat, Dallagnol told his wife that he expected to make around $106,000 that year in after-tax revenue from speaking fees and book royalties.
Dallagnol has previously said that most of the profits would be donated to a fund to help “civil servants working on anti-corruption operations such as Operation Car Wash,” but did not provide any details about how the fund would be administered. He would not confirm to The Intercept if that arrangement is still in effect.
The information about the Car Wash prosecutors’ speeches comes from an archive of documents and Telegram chat logs provided exclusively to The Intercept Brasil by an anonymous source. The Intercept released an editorial statement about the archive. Previous reporting from the archive has revealed a laundry list of unethical and likely illegal actions by the Car Wash prosecutors and Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who was previously the presiding judge in the case.
Dallagnol was investigated by the Public Ministry’s inspector general in 2017 for his paid speaking engagements, but was cleared of any wrongdoing. Private chats show that the National Association of Federal Prosecutors — which asked him to edit its public statement in his defense — spoke to the inspector general on Dallagnol’s behalf. The inspector general, in turn, guaranteed that he’d close the case. The inspector general’s office has opened a new investigation into Dallagnol’s activities in response to The Intercept’s reporting.
In Brazil, prosecutors are prohibited from operating a business, but the inspector general’s office found that the paid speeches constituted educational activities, which are permitted, mirroring a similar decision in 2016 that applied to judges.
The U.S. Justice Department and International Criminal Court, among other such entities, expressly prohibit payment from third parties for outside speaking or writing gigs related to one’s work in order to avoid conflicts of interest or the perception thereof.
The U.S. Justice Department also stipulates that “an official is prohibited from participating in any matter in which he has a financial interest.” In his first lecture for XP on the subject of “Ethics and Car Wash,” Dallagnol openly jokes about having stock in Petrobras and BTG Pactual, two companies at the center of the corruption probe he coordinates.
The prosecutors’ association and the Public Ministry office did not respond to requests for comment.
XP responded that it is “customary for financial institutions to hold exclusive meetings with authorities and institutional investors to promote debates and discussions pertinent to the domestic scenario. Payment of an honorarium, or the lack thereof, is agreed upon between the parties by contract.”
The speaking agency that represented Dallagnol said in a statement that it could not comment on arrangements surrounding the talks because they are private matters.
The Car Wash task force members were clearly aware of ethical concerns related to accepting money from financial firms and others, but were also tempted by the easy money, as Dallagnol’s conversation with fellow Car Wash prosecutor Roberson Pozzobon suggests:
The perceived impropriety of large speaking fees was central to Car Wash’s own successful argument to obtain a judicial warrant for ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s financial records. In his ruling granting the warrant, Moro wrote, “The illegality of these transfers cannot be concluded, but it must be acknowledged that these are large amounts for donations and lectures, which, in the context of Petrobras’s criminal scheme, raises doubts about the generosity of the companies mentioned and at least authorizes the deepening of investigations.”
In the case of Neoway, the big-data firm, Dallagnol and his colleagues had apparently forgotten that the firm had been cited in a deposition two years earlier, judging from chats examined by The Intercept. Dallagnol accepted payment for his speech, spoke about the importance of big-data tools in a promotion video for the company, and helped set up a meeting for colleagues to solicit the company to donate its technology to an initiative they were putting together. But the corruption case was still ongoing and, months later, the prosecutors’ work on the case, which had stagnated, resumed and Neoway’s name resurfaced.
“This is a problem for me,” Dallagnol wrote in a chat group with colleagues. “I want to talk to you guys on Monday to see what to do, I think it’s a case for me to recuse myself and I don’t know how much this affects everyone’s work,” Dallagnol wrote on July 21, 2018. Official documents provided by Dallagnol show that he did, in fact, recuse himself from the case and notify the Public Ministry’s inspector general, but only in June 2019, ten and a half months later (and just days before The Intercept began publishing private chats in which he participated).
When deciding which prosecutors would officially participate in the Neoway prosecution, one colleague suggested, “It’s better to leave out whoever had contact with neoway.” In the end only seven of the office’s 13 Car Wash prosecutors’ names appear on the relevant official documents; Dallagnol was not among them. In a statement to The Intercept, Neoway denied any impropriety in its contracts and said it was unaware that it had been cited in the investigation.
In an interview with The Intercept’s reporting partner, the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, Dallagnol said:
“I do not recognize the authenticity and integrity of these messages, but what I can say, and it is a fact, is that I participated in hundreds of message groups, just as I am included in more than 1,000 Car Wash cases. This fact does not make me know the content of each of these processes. If, by chance, I participated [in the group in which Neoway appeared], I certainly was not aware. If I had known I would not have done it, and, knowing it, I removed myself.”
Dallagnol refused to be interviewed by The Intercept.
The chat logs also revealed Dallagnol’s brainstorming about his budding career as a paid speaker. In a Microsoft Word document created in December 2015, apparently written as notes to himself, Dallagnol maps out his “next steps.” Under “topics for speeches,” he wrote, “I think where I can contribute today is compliance training and eventually business ethics, but I would need to study more ethics… complicated.”
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.
Federal prosecutors privately agreed that there is “no doubt” Flávio Bolsonaro engaged in corruption as a state representative, but little has been done.
Grave concerns that a major corruption scandal involving Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, federal Sen. Flávio Bolsonaro, might be shielded from serious investigative scrutiny by Bolsonaro’s powerful Justice Minister Sergio Moro were expressed in secret chats involving Moro’s longtime ally, Deltan Dallagnol, the chief prosecutor of the anti-corruption Car Wash investigation. Moro himself is currently battling his own corruption scandal as a result of The Intercept’s series of ongoing exposés beginning on June 9, based on a massive archive of secret chats, documents, and other materials involving the then-judge and the Car Wash prosecutors.
The specific scandal involving Bolsonaro’s son erupted almost as soon as his father was elected president, a victory driven in large part by an anti-corruption platform. As The Intercept has extensively reported, a government agency responsible for detecting unusual movements of money on the part of politicians found more than $1.5 million reals in transfers and deposits by Flávio Bolsonaro’s longtime driver, Fabricio Queiroz, most of which ended up in Flávio’s account and at least one of which ended up in the account of Jair Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle. The scandal became even more serious when Queiroz’s substantial connections to the country’s most violent and dangerous paramilitary gangs were revealed, and even worse, when it was revealed that Flávio himself employed in his cabinet while he was a state representative both the mother and wife of one of Rio de Janeiro’s most wanted paramilitary leaders.
That meant that the cloud of scandal around Jair Bolsonaro’s son, a newly elected senator, was not just about allegations of “mere” stealing of public funds. They suggested something much darker: deep links between the Bolsonaro family and the organized crime rings that rule and terrorize much of Brazil (and which Sergio Moro was purportedly appointed to combat).
In the new secret chats reported by The Intercept, federal prosecutors, while talking to one another after Bolsonaro’s victory, were emphatic that these unexplained deposits by Flávio’s driver perfectly match other corruption schemes they prosecuted in which political officials hire “phantom employees” who do no work, but collect their salary and then pay back the vast bulk of that money to the political official for his own personal enrichment.
Despite how clear-cut these prosecutors believe Flávio’s corruption to be, they expressed in these newly published chats deep worry that, while the investigation of the money movements is in the hands of local investigators, the broader and more serious allegations against Flávio might not be investigated because Moro is concerned about angering Jair Bolsonaro. This is considered likely not only because the corruption case has the president’s son as its prime target, but also because it already involves his own wife and could — given his longtime close friendship with Queiroz — end up implicating the president himself.
Even more stunning in these chats is that Moro’s most loyal defender and ally over the last five years, Dallagnol, himself expressed concerns that Moro would refuse to pursue an investigation of Flávio out of fear that it would jeopardize Moro’s own chance to be named to the Supreme Court. In May, Bolsonaro surprised the nation when he admitted that he had promised Moro — who, as a judge, was responsible for removing Bolsonaro’s primary adversary, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, by finding him guilty on corruption charges — not only the justice minister position, but also the next vacancy on the Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment.
To this day, consistent with Dallagnol’s predictions, there is no evidence that Moro — who at the time of these private chats had already left his position as judge and accepted Bolsonaro’s offer to take over the Ministry of Justice — has taken any measures to investigate the scheme of “phantom employees” that Flávio is accused of maintaining, nor, more importantly, Flávio’s connections with powerful militias in Rio de Janeiro.
The corruption scandal involving Flávio, which had been dominating the headlines, had virtually disappeared from media coverage in recent months due to apparent inaction. The investigation regarding the “unusual movement” of funds is now in the hands of the local Rio de Janeiro prosecutor, and appears to have entered a much slower-than-expected pace for a case of this seriousness. Moro, meanwhile, has given no indication of investigating the federal ramifications of the case, such as Queiroz’s alleged loan to first lady Michelle Bolsonaro or his ties to militias.
On the few occasions Moro answered questions from the media about the senator-son of the president, he has repeated that “there is nothing conclusive about the Queiroz case” and that the government does not intend to interfere with the work of the prosecutors. The case returned to the news only this week when, on Monday, July 15, Supreme Court President Dias Toffoli responded to Flávio Bolsonaro’s request to suspend investigations into his personal finances and those of his associates; the judge accepted the request by ruling as improper investigations initiated without judicial approval involving the use of financial information from the agency that monitors politicians’ financial transactions: the agency whose reporting of suspicious deposits from Queiroz triggered the Flávio scandal in the first place.
On December 8, 2018 — just five weeks after Bolsonaro’s victory but three weeks before he was inaugurated — Dallagnol initiated the discussion of these concerns regarding Moro with a message posted in a Telegram chat group composed of other Car Wash prosecutors. Dallagnol noted an article from the news outlet UOL that described an unexplained deposit by Flávio’s driver, Queiroz, of $24,000 reals ($6,500) into an account in the name of Michelle Bolsonaro.
As the article described, the “transaction was identified as ‘atypical’ by” the agency charged with monitoring money movements. Queiroz, Flávio’s longtime driver and a close Bolsonaro family friend, “moved R $1.2 million (US $380,000) between January, 2016 and January, 2017.” The UOL article noted that “the agency’s report does not itself prove improprieties but indicates amounts of money being moved that are incompatible with the income and economic activities of the ex-aide.”
This news caused Dallagnol to ask what his colleagues on the Car Wash anti-corruption task force thought about the case and Moro’s reaction to it as Bolsonaro’s new justice minster. One prosecutor, Jerusa Viecili, already a critic in prior chat groups of Moro’s closeness with the Bolsonaro government, responded: “I’m saying nothing . . . just watching ”.
The Intercept’s reporting revealed in June that many Car Wash prosecutors, in their secret chats, were indignant that Moro, after insisting for five years to critics that the Car Wash investigations and convictions were completely apolitical and free of ideology, had joined Bolsonaro’s far-right government as a political official, with many complaining that his doing so would forever put into doubt the legitimacy, credibility, and apolitical legacy of their anti-corruption work.
For years, critics of the Car Wash investigation accused prosecutors and Moro of being right-wing operatives abusing the power of law and the cover of an anti-corruption crusade to advance a nakedly political agenda, one designed to overwhelmingly target the left, especially the Workers’ Party that had dominated Brazilian politics for two decades, while neglecting or even ignoring serious corruption by the right.
The investigators’ insistence that they were devoid of political motives was seriously undermined, argued the prosecutors, by the appearance of Moro joining a right-wing government that was elected only once the Car Wash prosecutors and Moro rendered Bolsonaro’s primary center-left adversary ineligible to run. Their credibility has been damaged further by The Intercept’s exposés showing that prosecutors explicitly discussed having as one of their motives preventing a return of the Workers’ Party to power: exactly that which they and Moro spent years denying.
Dallagnol expressed serious concerns about how the justice minister was conducting the investigation into Flávio’s corruption allegations, suggesting that the ex-judge could end up being lenient with Flávio due to limits imposed on him by Jair Bolsonaro or by the self-interested desire of Moro to avoid putting at risk his nomination to the Supreme Court by angering Bolsonaro with a robust investigation into his son. Invoking a Brazilian poem used to expressed uncertainty about whether any consequences would follow from certain actions, Dallagnol wrote about Flávio’s actions: “It’s obvious what happened…. And now what, Jose?”
In the December 8 chat, Dallagnol continued: “In any case, the president will not split from his son. And what if all this happens before the vacancy on the Supreme Court appears?” About Jair Bolsonaro’s possible retaliation against Moro’s crown jewel — his anti-corruption bill — Dallagnol concluded, “Now, how much will he support the Moro Anti-Corruption agenda if his son ends up feeling Moro’s investigation on his skin?”
Requests for comment from the Car Wash prosecutorial task force and the prosecutors cited in this article were not answered as of the time of publication. The article will be updated to include any responses.
Moro’s predicament — how to investigate a corruption case involving the son of the president who named him to his position or, even more delicate, how to investigate corruption that could involve the president himself and his wife — caused Dallagnol himself to consider avoiding all interviews about corruption debates.
On the same day that his group discussed Moro’s posture in the Queiroz and Flávio case, Dallagnol used a private chat to discuss the same topic with another Car Wash prosecutor, Roberson Pozzobon. In that conversation, Dallagnol expressed deep concerns about granting media interviews about corruption issues given the possibility that questions about Flávio Bolsonaro might be raised.
In stark contrast to his usual eagerness to speak publicly about other cases of corruption — Dellagnol had famously used the media far more aggressively than is typical for prosecutors — he suggested that he was now reluctant to issue a more severe condemnation of Flávio for fear of the political consequences of displeasing the new president — motives similar to the ones he had, just hours earlier on that day, suggested could cause Moro not to investigate Flávio.
After considering various options for how to talk about the Flávio case if he were asked in interviews, Dallagnol concluded, “This can only be read as wishy-washy and protective of the government.” Pozzobon agreed that Dallagnol should try to avoid speaking about the Flávio scandal, ending the discussion with this proclamation: “I believe silence in this case is more eloquent.”
One and a half months later, on January 21, in the same chat group of prosecutors, Dallagnol announced that he had been invited to be interviewed on Brazil’s “60-Minutes”-like, highly watched Sunday night news program on Globo, “Fantastico,” to speak about ongoing corruption debates. The prosecutor was excited to be interviewed to the extent the questions focused on the case the program’s producers had specified: namely, corruption allegations against federal Congressman Paulo Pimenta, a member of the center-left Workers’ Party, the same party as Lula’s.
Dallagnol was particularly happy to speak critically about the Workers’ Party congressman’s invocation of a special legal “privilege” that has effectively shielded many lawmakers from investigation because it stipulates that federal lawmakers can be tried on criminal charges only by the Supreme Court. The law in question was enacted upon Brazil’s re-democratization as a protection against dictatorship-era abuses in which military regime leaders would simply concoct corruption charges against dissident Congress members and remove them from office; however, the sheer number of corruption cases pending against Congress members has produced a huge backlog in the Supreme Court, thus meaning that lawmakers who invoke this right have a high likelihood that their cases will never be brought to justice, or at least not for many years. In the past, Car Wash prosecutors were never shy about forcefully denouncing the invocation of this congressional privilege when it came to other politicians charged with corruption.
But in the case of this “Fantastico” interview, Dallagnol, who has been severely critical of lawmakers who invoke this right, was suddenly reluctant to accept the invitation to speak on such an important national media stage due to his fear that he would have to talk not only about the Workers’ Party, but also about Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio, who had invoked the same privilege in an attempt — ultimately unsuccessful — to shield himself from investigation. Indeed, Flávio’s invocation of this privilege — preserved for federal lawmakers — was far more dubious than the Congress members whom the Car Wash prosecutors had previously criticized, because the corrupt acts of which Flávio is accused occurred prior to his being elected a federal senator. If any case of a politician abusing this privilege merited condemnation by the anti-corruption crusaders, it would be Flávio’s.
But in this private chat about the TV offer, Dallagnol expressed his reluctance to speak about the case involving Flávio, calculating that the risks of having to discuss the case were greater than the eventual benefits of the investigation: “I don’t see that we have anything to gain because this question [of the privilege] is already settled.” His Car Wash colleagues agreed that while an interview about the Workers’ Party case would present no problem, the best option was to reject “Fantastico’s” invitation in order to avoid what they described, invoking soccer imagery, as a “divided ball” around Flávio Bolsonaro (the Globo news program declined to comment on this story).
All of these chats are drawn from the archive of messages that The Intercept began to reveal on June 9, in a series titled the “Secret Brazil Archive” (in Brazil, the scandal has become widely known by the Twitter hashtag The Intercept Brasil coined on the day of the first series of articles: #VazaJato, a play on the word “leak” in Portuguese (“vazamento”) and the name of the Car Wash investigation, Lava Jato). The statement from the editors of The Intercept and The Intercept Brasil published with the first series of reports explained the criteria used to report on this vast trove of materials; the ongoing reporting now includes partnerships with some of Brazil’s largest media outlets, including its largest center-right weekly magazine Veja (which has supported Moro and the Car Wash probe in the past), to ensure that the archive materials in the public interest are reported as quickly and responsibly as possible.
The idea that Moro was eager to protect Jair Bolsonaro’s son, or at least eager to avoid his investigation, was expressed again in the prosecutors’ chat groups in mid-January. This chat was prompted by Dallagnol’s finally making a public statement about the corruption allegations against Flávio Bolsonaro. He did so in response to pressure and questions from Intercept Brasil reporter, and now editor, Rafael Moro Martins, who pressed the task force on why it had said nothing about Flávio’s case even though it had often publicly expressed views on similar corruption cases by other politicians.
After Dallagnol posted a public statement about the Flávio case in response to The Intercept’s pressure, his press aide, in a private chat, praised him for doing so, writing to him: “This reinforces our non-partisanship.” After praising Dallagnol’s denunciation of Flávio, the press adviser then criticized Moro’s far less assertive statements whenever the justice minister was asked about Flávio’s scandal involving Queiroz: “They say his comments on Queiroz were very ‘neutral,’ that they had no firmness, you know? To many people, it seems Moro wanted to escape to the margins.” Moro, said Dallagnol’s press aide in their private chat, “stayed on top of the wall”— a common phrase in Portuguese for those who refuse to take a position or get involved in a dispute.
Those comments from Dallagnol’s aide were posted in mid-January, just a little more than a month after Dallagnol himself, in December, debated the case with his colleagues and expressed a similar concern that Moro would not pursue the allegations against Flávio with the investigative rigor they merit.
This conversation with Dallagnol’s aide occurred two months after several federal prosecutors had privately complained, as The Intercept previously reported, about the ethical conduct of Moro during the years he was a judge overseeing the Car Wash investigation. What emerges from an examination of these chats is a clear pattern of Moro’s closest allies on the Car Wash prosecutors’ task force — who praised and defended him in public — privately voicing many of the same critiques and concerns about his methods and motives as many of his harshest critics.
In the Brazilian press, Moro has now been questioned several times about his apparent apathy about the investigation into corruption allegations against Bolsonaro’s son, as well as about a major scandal involving Bolsonaro’s political party during the 2018 election. In response, Moro generally claims that he has no control over the Federal Police, even though it reports to him, because, he says, they maintain investigative autonomy. Thus, he implies, any failure on the part of the Federal Police to adequately investigate the Bolsonaros’ corruption scandals has nothing to do with him.
But Moro’s claim that he does not control the Federal Police — a claim made in response to criticisms that as justice minister he has sought to protect Bolsonaro, his family, and his party — should be viewed with substantial skepticism. After all, Moro, for years, also publicly insisted that he had no role in the management and direction of the Car Wash prosecutions that he was required to judge as a neutral arbiter: a claim that The Intercept’s reporting, with the aid of this archive, has proven to be false.
Additional reporting: Amanda Audi and João Felipe Linhares