The idolatry of Sérgio Moro

Leonardo Sakomoto reflects on the rise of Brazil's top judge who became vigilante – and then ‘God’.

Brazil's Justice Minister Sergio Moro talks during an interview with Reuters in Brasilia, Brazil, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Andre Coelho

In June, The Intercept Brasil began to publish a series of reports showing that former Brazilian federal judge and current Justice Minister Sérgio Moro guided the actions of prosecutors working on the Lava Jato (Car Wash) operation. The latter became famous worldwide for investigating corruption cases involving state companies and led to several well-known politicians being convicted by Judge Moro, including former Brazilian President Lula, who claims he is innocent.

The Intercept – edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald – received a massive amount of information from an anonymous source that included copies of text and audio message exchanged via the Telegram app.

Judge Moro and the prosecutors, who had their modus operandi exposed, said that the content disclosed was the result of illegal leaks and that they could not tell whether it was genuine. But even if it were genuine, they said, they saw no problem with it – a Schrödinger’s cat of a response.

That view was not shared by many Brazilian and foreign jurists, nor journalists from media outlets invited by The Intercept to examine and co-publish the material. In their view, the exchanges demonstrated that Judge Sérgio Moro had abandoned the impartiality required of his position by helping prosecutors to organize their cases. The defendants’ rights were effectively curtailed.

Moro’s conviction of Lula paved the way for the latter’s imprisonment in April 2018 and prevented him from running in the presidential elections as the Workers’ Party candidate. Even in prison, Lula continued leading in the polls. But in the end the main beneficiary of Lula’s imprisonment, which barred him from candidacy in elections, was Jair Bolsonaro. Once elected president, Bolsonaro nominated Moro as his Justice Minister – which was seen as a thank-you for services rendered.

Moro appears to be proud of having broken the rules and ignored Brazil’s Federal Constitution in order to advance what he considers to be the greater good. He thus mistakes a judge’s role for that of a vigilante, taking fully to heart his fans’ description of him as a ‘superhero’.

Since the revelations, Moro has been encouraging the cult of his own personality. On 30 June, as thousands of his far-right supporters gathered across the country, he tweeted ‘I see, I hear’ – along with photos of the demonstrations. The phrase echoes a passage from the Book of Exodus, in which God responds to the plight of the Jews in Egypt.

A supporter’s banner in Rio de Janeiro read: ‘You have delivered us from darkness’. That ‘you’ was not God, but Sérgio Moro. It doesn’t get more explicit than that.

When a public servant who has been raised to the position of a hero is called upon to account for his actions, his followers see it not as a comment on that individual’s conduct but an attack on the set of values that their hero has come to represent. It becomes a challenge to the personal beliefs of those who follow him. Many will act as watchdogs for their hero’s life story, shutting down any debate involving their idol, including healthy discussion focused on facts.

Moro’s popularity and his nomination to the Supreme Court has taken a hit. But at the time of writing the majority is still not calling for him to leave the ministry.

In the end, each society deserves the idols it creates for itself.