RIO DE JANEIRO -- The Brazilian Bar Association on Monday called for the suspension of the justice minister after a series of reports alleging that as a crusading anti-corruption judge he coordinated with prosecutors in the case that led to the conviction and jailing of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The group also recommended that all the prosecutors involved be suspended "so that the investigation can run without any suspicions."
The bar association urged an investigation be conducted following Sunday's publication of articles by the online news magazine The Intercept that revealed private messages between now Justice Minister Sergio Moro and the task force of "Operation Car Wash."
One case in that wide-ranging corruption probe resulted in da Silva being jailed in April 2018 and banned from running for president again in October's election, a race that opinion polls had indicated he would win. Dozens of other politicians and top business executives also have been imprisoned as a result of the "Car Wash" investigation, which was led by Moro.
Moro denied any wrongdoing. "There is no orientation in those messages," he told reporters Monday. He added that he couldn't confirm if the published messages were real because he had not saved them.
Octavio Rego Barros, spokesman for President Jair Bolsonaro, told reporters that Bolsonaro planned to meet with Moro on Tuesday to discuss the leaked messages.
The federal prosecutor's office confirmed Sunday that messages had been hacked from the phones of some prosecutors involved in the "Car Wash" investigation, though it didn't address the accuracy of the published messages.
On Monday, the office said that since April, federal prosecutors have been targeted by hackers who have been cloning their cellphones.
Moro said in a statement late Sunday that he "lamented" that the Intercept stories used an anonymous source. He called the reports "sensationalist," saying the messages didn't represent any abnormality or show any direction by him of coordinating with prosecutors.
Delton Dallagnol, the lead "Car Wash" prosecutor, posted a video to social media saying that it is normal for judges, prosecutors and lawyers to speak to each other.
Joao Paulo de Martinelli, a criminal lawyer and professor at the Institute of Public Law of Sao Paulo, said the messages could open a path for lawyers to petition the Supreme Court to throw out the conviction of da Silva, who is widely known to Brazilians as Lula.
"If these messages are proven to be true, there was partiality from the judge in Lula's conviction. A judge driving the prosecution is a grave violation of the constitution and of human rights," de Martinelli said.
Analysts at the Eurasia Group said the Intercept reports will "have important political ripple effects," especially for Moro, but are unlikely to affect Bolsonaro's economic reform agenda. The group said the reports call into questions the contention by "Car Wash" prosecutors that the anti-corruption investigation was not partisan. Da Silva has strongly professed his innocence and contends he was targeted for political reasons.
Moro became a hero for many Brazilians because of his role as the lead federal judge in charge of the "Operation Car Wash."
"If there's talk of annulling the (da Silva) conviction, we will see a strong social backlash," said Luiz Claudio Araujo, a law professor at Ibmec University. "A lot of people defend Operation Car Wash."