Sergio Moro, the judge at the centre of Brazil's sprawling Lava Jato investigation into kickbacks to politicians said Tuesday he would consider joining the Cabinet of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro if invited.
Bolsonaro, a far-right former Army captain who will take office January 1, said during an interview after his Sunday election that he would ask federal judge Sergio Moro to be his justice minister or fill a future vacancy on the supreme court.
In a statement, Moro said he would be "honoured" by such an invitation, and added that it "would be the object of careful discussion and reflection" – a move likely to fuel accusations that his investigation is politically motivated.
Moro leads the "Operation Car Wash" (Lava Jato) corruption probe, which was launched in 2014 and has led to the jailing of many business executives and politicians, including former president Luiz Inácio da Silva of the left-leaning Workers' Party (PT), whose candidate Bolsonaro saw off in the second-round run-off. Now serving 12 years in prison, Lula was barred from running in the election.
Bolsonaro ran on an anti-corruption, pro-gun and tough-on-crime platform.
In the interview with TV Record, he noted he held off on mentioning a role for Moro during the presidential race.
"If I had said that during the campaign that would be opportunistic," he said. "But now I can say I want to [invite Moro]. Not only to the Supreme Court, but maybe to the Justice Ministry. I want to talk to him. For sure he will be a person of extreme importance."
Rosangela Wolff Moro, a lawyer married to the judge, has repeatedly suggested in her Instagram profile that she supported Bolsonaro against left-leaning Fernando Haddad, who was named the Workers' Party candidate after Lula was barred by electoral authorities over his imprisonment.
Bolsonaro appeared in public Tuesday for the first time as president-elect. He visited a church led by ultraconservative pastor Silas Malafaia and spoke briefly to the faithful on stage.
"I am sure that I am not the most capable, but God capacitates the chosen ones," he said.
Bolsonaro's future chief-of-staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said earlier that several current Cabinet positions will be merged into a single Economy Ministry, which will be led by economist Paulo Guedes.
"The minister of Industry and Commerce will be with Economy. So, the minister of economy will include [fusion of] the Finance, the Planning and the Industry and Commerce ministry," Lorenzoni said.
Guedes, who is well-liked by the markets, will head it. The São Paulo stock market closed up 3.69 percent on the news.
Brazil's national industry confederation criticised the idea.
"We need a minister with a specific role, not linked to the Economy Ministry, which worries more about revenues and public finances," it said.
Most Brazilian business leaders endorsed Bolsonaro's candidacy.
The incoming administration also plans to merge the Agriculture and Environment ministries, a move that some farmers and many environmentalists oppose.
The president-elect, who is backed by Brazil's powerful agribusiness lobby, had floated the idea in the past, saying, "Let's be clear: the future ministry will come from the productive sector. We won't have any more fights over this."
After activists warned the move would undermine the Environment Ministry's controls on business, Bolsonaro, 63, had struck a more conciliatory tone in the final days of the campaign, saying he was "open to negotiation on that issue."
His quick reversal will likely raise fears he will stick to his hardline conservative stance on other issues, too, after dialing back his vitriolic and derogatory rhetoric in the campaign's final stretch.
Activists swiftly condemned the move – a "triple disaster," in the words of Marina Silva, a former presidential candidate and environment minister under Lula.
"We are entering a tragic time in which environmental protection will amount to nothing. The Bolsonaro government hasn't even started and the backsliding is already incalculable," she tweeted.
Activists are particularly worried about the implications for the Amazon rainforest, the "lungs of the planet," which is already losing an area the size of Costa Rica to deforestation each year.
The non-profit group Observatorio do Clima said the move aims to end any environmental regulation.
"Bolsonarism is showing his face: an ideological regime of violence and looting of natural resources, bending to the oldest forces of the producing sector," its statement said. "This undermines the competitivity of Brazilian agribusiness, which depends on strong environmental governance, and makes Brazil a pariah in the international scene."
As Bolsonaro made plans for his government following his big election win, thousands of his opponents flooded one of São Paulo's largest avenues, chanting "Not him, not ever!" A few thousand people also rallied in Rio de Janeiro to protest against the president-elect.
In São Paulo, the protesters marched in the evening with a banner reading "Dictatorship, never again" – a reference to Bolsonaro's outspoken admiration for the brutal military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.
The former Army captain huddled with his inner circle at the home of a wealthy backer in Rio de Janeiro to start forming what advisor Gustavo Bebianno called "a combat vanguard" for the new administration.
On the diplomatic front, Lorenzoni said Bolsonaro's first foreign trips would be to Chile, Israel and the United States, countries that "share our worldview."
Bolsonaro also doubled down on his most radical proposal for fighting Brazil's soaring crime rate: loosening gun laws so "good people" can take justice into their own hands.
"The country is at war," he said late Monday in his first interview as president-elect, vowing to lower the minimum age for firearm permits from 25 to 21 and eliminate red tape for gun ownership.
"Those who don't respect the law need to understand they will be held responsible, either before the law or by being taken down," he said.
In a sign of the polarisation of the nation's politics, the PT on Tuesday vowed "resistance" to Bolsonaro's government.
"The election result is a fact, but the process that led to that result was full of malfeasance and fraud," said party leader Gleisi Hoffmann.
Snipers for criminals
Meanwhile, the far-right governor-elect of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, met with criticism yesterday after announcing he would deploy snipers to take down armed criminal suspects, even if officers' lives are not in danger.
Following through on a campaign pledge, the governor-elect said he would instruct police and soldiers to open fire on armed suspects, even if it meant shooting them in the back unprovoked. He also proposed deploying snipers in helicopters to shoot suspects from above during police operations against drug-traffickers.
"If you have five criminal elements shooting at a policeman, all of them can and should be taken down," he said in an interview Monday night with TV network Globonews.
Asked if his plan included shooting suspects in the back, he said: "Gun in hand? He's a threat. He's going to use that gun to attack anyone who's in front of him."
Rio de Janeiro's impoverished favela neighborhoods are regular scenes of combat-style confrontations between heavily armed drug-traffickers and security forces.
In February, President Michel Temer deployed the army to Rio to try to gain the upper hand. Witzel said he wants to extend that 10-month emergency deployment by another 10 months.
In a country that registered a record 63,880 murders last year, many Brazilians are fed up with violent crime – a big factor in Bolsonaro's victory, and those of 12 far-right governors swept to office with him.
But rights activists said Witzel's proposals were not even legal.
"Giving prior authorisation to automatically kill anyone who may be armed when there is no imminent risk to life is an affront to Brazilian and international law," Amnesty International said in a statement sent to AFP Tuesday. "It would only result in an escalation of violence and put hundreds of thousands of people's lives at risk, including those of the officers themselves."
Witzel, a little-known federal judge, surged to victory in Brazil's "Bolsonaro wave" after declaring his fervent support for the far-right former Army captain.