RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s attorney general is accusing the nation’s highest court of violating the constitution with an order for news organizations to withdraw some online reports on a corruption investigation that include references to one of the tribunal’s justices.
The court told the news websites O Antagonista and Crusoé on Monday to remove specific articles containing what the court said were “false statements” or face a fine of 100,000 reals ($25,595) per day.
Attorney General Raquel Dodge asked for the ruling to be withdrawn Tuesday, saying that her office had not been consulted and that the case was outside the federal court’s purview.
“The legal system clearly establishes an insurmountable separation of functions in a criminal prosecution: One body accuses, the other defends and the other judges. It is not possible for the judging body to be the same as the investigating and accusatory,” Dodge said.
The ruling also faced mounting criticism from members of Congress, Brazil’s legal association and at least four of the high court’s nine justices.
“This to me is inconceivable. It’s censorship,” high court judge Marco Aurelio Mello said. “It is a regression in democracy. Freedom of expression must prevail.”
Several members of Congress and senators wrote a letter asking Dodge that judges involved in issuing the order be investigated for abuse of power. Major Brazilian news organizations called the order a violation of the Supreme Federal Court’s powers and an attempt to censor the press.
The reporting targeted by the court refers to purported testimony during the investigation into the mammoth “Operation Car Wash” corruption case that has roiled Brazilian politics in recent years. The testimony came from Marcelo Odebrecht of the huge Brazilian construction company that is at the center of Brazil’s scandal as well as other corruption cases across Latin America.
According to documents posted online by the newspaper O Folha de Sao Paulo, an email in 2007 from Odebrecht to two executives at his construction company inquired: “So, in the end, did you manage to close with the friend of the friend of my father?”
The documentation indicates Odebrecht explained in testimony to Federal Police that the “friend of my father” referred to then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is currently in prison on a corruption conviction and faces investigations in several other cases of alleged corruption. The documents say Odebrecht testified that the “friend of the friend of my father” was a chief legal counsel to the government appointed by da Silva. That person was eventually nominated to Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court in 2009.
The investigation into the reports and the order to remove the material originated with Supreme Federal Court judge Alexandre de Moraes, who on Wednesday denied Dodge’s request that the ruling be withdrawn. De Moraes said the investigation has a clear mandate to target false statements “that may damage the honor of the Supreme Federal Court and its members.”
The ruling also authorized the Federal Police to search the premises of several other critics of the Supreme Federal Court as well as to block their online presence.