A federal judge in Brazil issued an injunction Thursday suspending the controversial appointment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to a high-ranking role in President Dilma Rousseff’s administration.
Charged with identity fraud and money laundering in conjunction with a sweeping corruption investigation, Lula was sworn in as Rousseff’s chief of staff Thursday. Shortly after the ceremony, Judge Itagiba Catta Preta Neto issued an order suspending the appointment. Lula’s role in the government of Rousseff, his handpicked successor, would provide him judicial immunity from all but Brazil's Supreme Federal Court. Both Lula and Rousseff are members of the center-left Workers’ Party.
In the court order suspending the appointment, the judge said Lula’s role as chief of staff could give rise to an “unwarranted” intervention into judicial or prosecutorial activities. The judge also said the appointment could impede “the free exercise of justice.”
The government can appeal the injunction in a higher court.
The move came as demonstrations against Lula’s appointment, calling for his arrest and Rousseff’s impeachment, continued for the second day in a row. Wednesday, a different federal judge released an audio recording of a phone conversation between Lula and Rousseff that fueled accusations the appointment was designed to evade prosecution.
At the swearing-in ceremony Thursday, Rousseff blasted the release of that recording. “Convulsing Brazilian society with lies, with reprehensible practices violates constitutional rights as well as the rights of citizens,” Reuters quoted her as saying.
Rousseff herself is under considerable pressure to resign from both opposition legislators and protesters. An impeachment process is set to be launched in the National Congress Thursday.
Lula’s home was raided by police this month as part of a wide-ranging graft probe. A number of politicians, including many in the Workers’ Party, have been implicated for corruption at Petróleo Brasileiro (Petrobras), the state-run oil company. Prosecutors charge politicians used the firm’s funds for political purposes.
“Brazil cannot continue with them anymore,” Rubens Bueno, an opposition lawmaker, said amid protests Wednesday. “They are using their positions to stay in power at all cost.”
Brazil is also suffering its worst economic crisis in decades. Last year, the country’s economy shrank nearly 4 percent.