Brazil’s Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who became popular as a crusader against corruption, resigned on Friday, alleging political interference in the federal police force.
He made the announcement after President Jair Bolsonaro changed the head of the federal police’s chief in the midst of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Federal police general director Mauricio Valeixo worked closely with Moro in the sprawling Car Wash corruption probe until the end of 2018 and followed him when Moro joined Bolsonaro’s new administration.
The graft investigation ensnared scores of politicians and businessmen throughout Latin America, including former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the CEO of construction giant Odebrecht, and transformed Moro into a folk hero.
Moro told reporters on that he warned Bolsonaro on Thursday that removing the head of the federal police without cause would amount to political interference. Bolsonaro did so anyway, without consulting Moro, the minister said, adding he took it as evidence he was no longer wanted in the position.
“The general director could have been changed as long as there was a consistent cause. There was not a consistent cause,” Moro said. “Political interference that could create inappropriate relationships between the general director or superintendents and the president is something I can’t agree with.”
In recent days, Bolsonaro had called for Moro to reopen Brazil’s borders with Paraguay and Uruguay during the pandemic, as the Brazilian leader has repeatedly said he wants economic activity to resume, but the minister did not agree.
Moro, who is hailed by many Brazilians while seen by others as an anti-left zealot, was also key in the process that led to the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
Several of the Car Wash investigations in the southern city of Curitiba involved politicians linked to that administration. He left the court in Nov. 2018 after Bolsonaro’s invitation to join his administration.
Bolsonaro, who was elected in large part due to his law-and-order platform, said in November that he wouldn’t have reached the presidency had Moro not “fulfilled his mission” as a judge.
Bolsonaro has bounced from crisis to crisis during his administration, from his attacks on the media to his dismissal of last year’s raging Amazon fires and dust-ups with foreign leaders. More recently, he has drawn outrage with claims that the coronavirus is “a little flu” and by scoffing at international health experts’ recommendation for stay-at-home measures.
Last week, Bolsonaro fired his health minister, who had supported such measures that most Brazilian governors adopted.