RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazil's justice minister lamented on Sunday what he called the "criminal invasion" of the phones of several prosecutors involved in a sprawling anti-graft probe that has put dozens of top politicians and businessmen behind bars.
Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who led the "Operation Car Wash" investigation when he was a judge, put out a statement after the online news publication The Intercept published articles that it said reveal private messages between Moro and members of the task force.
In one of the stories published Sunday, The Intercept says that then-judge Moro and prosecutors involved in an investigation into former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva exchanged messages discussing the case. According to the article, Moro orientated prosecutors, overstepping his duties as a judge.
Da Silva, who is widely know to Brazilians as Lula, was sentenced to 12 years and one month in prison on a corruption conviction, which was later reduced to eight years and 10 months. 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."
"The restoration of Lula's full freedom is urgent," the statement read, saying "he has not committed any crime and is a victim of 'lawfare.'"
Moro said he was not given a chance to comment on the hacked phone conversations before publication and regretted that the source of the leaked messages in the story remained anonymous.
The federal prosecutors' office issued two statements confirming that phones were hacked. The agency defended the task force's work and its impartiality. It strongly criticized the "hacker's vile action," saying the leak potentially threatens investigations that are underway and reveals prosecutors' strategies.
The statement also said the hack exposes aspects of the personal lives of prosecutors and their families. Those hacked worked in the federal prosecutor's office for Parana state.
The "Car Wash" probe was launched in 2014 to investigate billions of dollars in contracts given out by state-run oil company Petrobras.