Outcry after reports Brazil plans to investigate Glenn Greenwald
Federal police reportedly asked money laundering unit to investigate the ‘financial activities’ of the US journalist
Brazil’s Bar Association, journalists and opposition lawmakers have reacted with outrage to reports that the country’s federal police plan to investigate the bank accounts of an American journalist who published leaked conversations between prosecutors and the graft-busting judge who is now Jair Bolsonaro’s justice minister.
The rightwing site the Antagonist (O Antagonista) reported on Tuesday that federal police had asked a money-laundering unit at Brazil’s finance ministry to investigate the “financial activities” of Glenn Greenwald.
Police declined to comment on the allegation but confirmed an investigation had been launched into the hacking of cellphones that led to the leaks.
“This seems to me like an attempt to intimidate the journalist,” said Kennedy Alencar, a leading political commentator on CBN Radio.
“If there is an investigation for doing journalism it is illegal and it is an attempt at intimidation,” said Pierpaolo Bottini, a professor of penal law at the University of São Paulo who heads the press freedom unit at the Brazilian Bar Association.
Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, won a Pulitzer prize for leading the Guardian’s reporting on National Security Agency (NSA) spying revealed by Edward Snowden before co-founding the Intercept website in 2014.
Last month, the publication’s Brazilian edition launched the first in a string of bombshell articles which appeared to show prosecutors in the sweeping Operation Car Wash corruption inquiry colluding with Sérgio Moro, the judge who became a hero in Brazil for jailing powerful businessmen, middlemen and politicians.
The leaked records – which the Intercept said it received from an anonymous source – have had an explosive impact on Brazilian politics and dominated headlines for weeks.
On Sunday, leaks published in the Folha de S Paulo newspaper cast fresh doubts over key testimony in the case against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for graft and money laundering. Lula’s conviction removed him from last year’s presidential race.
After the far-right candidate Bolsonaro won, he made Moro his justice minister.
Moro refused to say whether federal police – which he controls – were investigating Greenwald during a tumultuous hearing on Tuesday at Brazil’s congress.
He defended the corruption investigation, attacked “sensationalist” reporting and said the Intercept leaks were an “empty balloon” that failed to prove any wrongdoing.
“There is a criminal attempt to invalidate convictions,” Moro said.
A spokesman for the federal police said he could not confirm nor deny they was looking at Greenwald’s finances. “The investigation we have is to investigate the hacking of the data,” he said. A spokeswoman for the money-laundering unit said they did not comment on specific cases but had “no knowledge” of the request.
But reports of the alleged investigation prompted anger among press freedom groups and opposition politicians.
“We see this as a brutal violation of press freedom,” said José Guimarães, a congressman from Lula’s Workers’ party.
“It’s not only an outrageous attack on press freedom, but a gross abuse of power,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in a statement.
The leaks have enraged Bolsonaro’s supporters – crowds of whom demonstrated across Brazil on Sunday in support of Moro.
Greenwald and his husband David Miranda, a congressman for the leftist Socialism and Freedom party, have faced a barrage of threats, slander and homophobic abuse.
“This is what Bolsonaro and Moro are now doing: using the Federal Police they control to investigate me in retaliation for my reporting,” Greenwald tweeted.