Monday, June 10, 2019

Car Wash prosecutors colluded with Moro -- The Intercept (June 10, 2019)

The Intercept published three exposes that purport to show politicized and legally dubious maneuvers by the Operation Car Wash anti-corruption task force of prosecutors, along with then-Judge Sergio Moro. The reports are based on leaked internal discussions accessed by The Intercept. They appear to show repeated collaboration between Moro, now justice minister, and prosecutors in a case he was judging. (Guardian)

One piece focuses on "serious ethical violations and legally prohibited collaboration between the judge and prosecutors who last year convicted and imprisoned former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on corruption charges." Lula's incarceration kept him out of the 2018 presidential election -- which he had a strong chance of winning according to numerous polls.

The materials also show that the prosecution had serious doubts about whether there was sufficient evidence to establish Lula’s guilt. The case revolved around a beachside apartment Lula supposedly obtained as a kickback from a contractor in return for state-owned oil company contracts. The Intercept reports that, just days before filing the indictment, lead prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol expressed doubts to his prosecutorial colleagues in a group chat: over whether the triplex was in fact Lula’s and whether it had anything to do with Petrobras.

The archive of material accessed by The Intercept also shows that the Car Wash team operated with political intent in the lead-up to last year's October election. One example occurred 10 days before the first round of presidential voting last year, when a Supreme Court justice granted a petition from the country’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, to interview Lula in jail.

"Immediately upon learning of that decision on September 28, 2018, the team of prosecutors who handled Lula’s corruption case — who spent years vehemently denying that they were driven by political motives of any kind — began discussing in a private Telegram chat group how to block, subvert, or undermine the Supreme Court decision. This was based on their expressed fear that the decision would help the PT — Lula’s party — win the election. Based on their stated desire to prevent the PT’s return to power, they spent hours debating strategies to prevent or dilute the political impact of Lula’s interview."

A statement from Da Silva’s defense lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, published Sunday on the former president’s Workers’ Party website said the prosecution was “corrupted," reports the Associated Press.

The federal prosecutors’ office issued two statements confirming that phones were hacked. The agency defended the task force’s work and its impartiality.
In response to The Intercept reports, Moro -- now Minister of Justice -- defended his actions as judge in the ongoing Car Wash probe and said the material obtained through the "criminal invasion of prosecutors' cell phones" had been "taken out of context and sensationalized," reports AFP.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------U.S. Mexico immigration deal

The U.S. and Mexico announced a migration deal on Friday. The agreement came after frenzied negotiations between the two sides last week, after U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly threatened a blanket tariff on all Mexican goods if migration isn't significantly reduced, reports the New York Times

The agreement would expedite a program known as the Migration Protection Protocols, which sends people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico as their cases are processed, reports Reuters. Mexico also agreed to send its National Guard police force to its own southern border, where many Central Americans enter Mexico.

Critics said the deal mostly involved previous commitments, reports the Guardian. The timing and many other steps remain uncertain. Experts disagreed on what the impact of the measures will be, as well. (Washington Post)

Redirecting the new Mexican National Guard to migration issues means President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be diverting resources from his approach to reducing drug violence, according to the New York Times. It also means the Mexican government will be deploying the controversial new force towards a task it was not originally slated to fulfill, reports the Washington Post. The troops have no training in border patrol and has no formal connection to the Mexican migration agency.

Mexico has already been allowing people seeking asylum in the U.S. to await case processing on the Mexican side of the border. But the program has been implemented slowly, with a multitude of legal and logistical challenges. There is also mounting evidence that Mexico is not a safe place for asylum seekers -- many have in turn become victims of organized crime, reports the Wall Street Journal. (It is, also, unsafe for many Mexicans, reports the Wall Street Journal in a separate piece.)

Nonetheless, Mexico managed to avoid a worst options involving a vast overhaul of the asylum system that would have required migrants to apply for refuge in Mexico or the first country they passed through after their own, according to the New York Times. AMLO celebrated the agreement as a decent win at a rally on Saturday, reports the Guardian.

However Mexico will remain under pressure from Washington, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Today, however,  Trump said the agreement has “fully signed and documented” provisions that have not yet been publicly disclosed, that will require Mexican congressional approval, reports the Washington Post. Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard spoke of a potential regional system to limit migration and avoid future tariffs. 

News Briefs

  • "America’s immigration system takes the myth of due process and turns it on its head. Instead of a presumption of innocence, migrants face the assumption of inadmissibility," writes Francisco Cantú in a recent New York Times op-ed.
  • As the path to the U.S. becomes increasingly impossible, some Central American migrants are crossing the Atlantic and seeking asylum in Europe instead. The distance is greater, but by many accounts, the trip is safer and cheaper. (New York Times)
  • Aid is key to stopping migration flows from Guatemala, argues New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof.
  • Children born to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia are stateless -- a growing problem, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • This week is key for Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra. Though he won a confidence vote from Congress last week, lawmakers must still approve a series of anti-corruption reforms he has proposed -- one by one, before the current session of Congress ends on June 15, and then again in the next session which begins in late July, explains Simeon Tegel in Americas Quarterly. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • The Mara Salvatrucha street gang hopes to enter discussions with El Salvador's new president, Nayib Bukele. For the first time reducing extortion is on the table along with homicide reduction, reports Revista Factum. (InSight Crime translation.)
  • Thousands of Haitians marched in protest of government corruption and calling for President Jovel Moïse's resignation, in Port-au-Prince. Though the demonstration began peacefully, tensions increased throughout the day. Police said a preliminary tally shows there were at least two deaths from gunshots, four injuries also from gunshots and 12 arrests were made, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Venezuela crisis is hitting Cuba hard, and Havana has an outsized influence on the Maduro government. While U.S. hawks hope that regime change in Venezuela will harm Cuba's communist government, the situation also offers an opportunity to engage productively with the island's leaders, argue  Benjamin N. Gedan and Nicolás Saldías in the Washington Post.
  • Argentina's presidential campaign season is marked by a slew of corruption cases against former government officials, namely veep candidate and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. But the judicial proceedings seem to follow the current administration's political agenda more than legal norms, I argue in a New York Times Español op-ed. The result is a judicial system caught between a rock and a hard place: no matter the verdict, few consider the procedure credible.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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