UPDATE 1-Brazil’s top court removes Lula probe from crusading judge

Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to remove a corruption investigation into former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from the jurisdiction of a lower court judge who released a wiretapped conversation of him with President Dilma Rousseff.

The 8-2 decision grants Lula a breather from crusading anti-corruption Judge Sergio Moro, putting his case temporarily in the hands of the top court, all but 3 of whose members have been named since his Workers’ Party took office in 2003.

Lula is under investigation for allegedly benefiting, in the form of payments and a luxury real estate, from a massive graft scheme uncovered at state-run oil company Petrobras.

The case comes as Brazil is struggling to overcome a series of political and economic crises amid accusations of widespread corruption at high levels of government.

Lula’s protegee Rousseff, herself facing possible impeachment, tried to appoint the popular former president to her Cabinet, which would give him some immunity from prosecution because ministers and elected officials can only be tried by the Supreme Court in Brazil.

Hours after he was named, Moro released a recording of them discussing the appointment. A Supreme Court justice suspended Lula’s appointment arguing that it was aimed at illegally shielding him, adding to a political storm that threatens to oust Rousseff from office.

Thousands of Brazilians in 17 states and the nation’s capital took to the streets on Thursday in defense of Rousseff,

who is scrambling to hold together her crumbling ruling coalition as partners abandon her.

The lower house of Congress is due to vote in mid-April on whether Rousseff should stand trial in the Senate for manipulating government accounts to win re-election in 2014. She is not being investigated for corruption.

In the Lula case, the Supreme Court said it was the only court authorized to wiretap a conversation involving the president, and overruled Moro’s decision to release the recording of his call with Rousseff. Several justices said the conversation should not be accepted as valid evidence when the court eventually decides on Lula’s suspension.

Moro could still take some parts of the Lula investigation, depending on future Supreme Court rulings and whether Lula is ultimately allowed to take the Cabinet position.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Alistair Bell)

The article UPDATE 1-Brazil's top court removes Lula probe from crusading judge was originally published at Reuters - US Energy.