By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Supreme Court in Brazil voted three to two yesterday (May 2nd) to release former Minister José Dirceu from jail. Dirceu was arrested in August of 2015 by federal court judge Sérgio Moro in connection with Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash).
According to Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, who voted to have Dirceu released, prisons cannot be based on abstract risks to public order and to investigations.
“Only the mention of the seriousness of the offenses can not, in my view, be validly invoked for the enactment of his preventive detention, for the preventive detention of the subject [Dirceu] and for any other subject, as we have repeatedly stated here,” stated Lewandowski.
According to the minister, Dirceu has been imprisoned for almost two years without any clear signal when his appeal trial before the Federal Court will be scheduled and should not ‘pay his dues in advance’.
Hours before the announcement of Dirceu’s release, Lava Jato prosecutors’ task force in Paraná, led by prosecutor Deltan Dellagnol, filed a new complaint against the former minister, where he is accused of receiving R$2.4 million in bribes.
At least one of the Supreme Court Justices analyzing Dirceu’s case criticized the prosecutor’s move, seen as a way to pressure the highest court in the country into keeping the former official in jail.
“It is not up to the prosecutors to pressure, as it is not for anybody to pressure, the Federal Supreme Court. The basic principles of the rule of law must be respected. When we break this, we are sowing the embryo of authoritarian bias,” said Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes.
In May 2016, José Dirceu was sentenced to 23 years in prison for corruption and money laundering crimes. The former Chief of Staff is accused of receiving more than R$48 million in bribes from illicit schemes at Petrobras, according to Lava Jato’s prosecutors. Dirceu’s lawyers have filed for an appeal of the sentence.
Dirceu was also arrested and jailed in 2012, but then let go on house-arrest work release, in connection from the mensalão scandal. Although legal proceedings against the politicians and business figures in that case only began 2012, the scandal itself dated back to 2005.