This week I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a public speech given by Judge Sergio Moro in Buenos Aires before an audience of local attorneys, businessmen, members of the judiciary and government officials.
Aged only 44, but already with 20 years of experience as a Federal judge in Brazil, Judge Moro has revolutionized the local and international anti-corruption community by presiding over the so-called “Car Wash” investigation.
In only three years he has succeeded in issuing over 130 individual convictions adding up to more than 1,300 prison years and recovering assets for several hundred million dollars.
Additionally, his investigation set the basis for the largest fine ever applied to a corporate for corruption-related offenses, considering the combined fine of approximately $3.5 billion construction company Odebrecht and its affiliate Braskem have agreed to pay to authorities in Brazil, the United States and Switzerland.
He has brought down powerful businessmen and politicians, exposing a scheme of widespread corruption that linked large Brazilian corporations to corrupt government officials. He calls it “systemic corruption.” And the investigation is still underway…
Judge Moro is a prestigious and dedicated professional, with impressive academic credentials and a strong commitment to the rule of law and public service. Yet he speaks with a calm voice, in a non-pretentious and simple manner. He does not hesitate to credit the Brazilian judicial system and institutions with the success of the investigation over his personal intervention.
His visit to Argentina had the stated purpose of providing a proper perspective on the Car Wash investigation, sharing his experience and setting the basis for upcoming cooperation between judicial authorities, as the investigation has many cross-border aspects still unfolding.
When asked whether the pursuit of grand-scale corruption investigations may have adverse political consequences to a country, Judge Moro provided a citation from Theodore Roosevelt’s third State of the Union Address, given in 1903.
Back then, forty years after Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address, the “government of the people, by the people and for the people” was menaced not by potential dissolution coming from civil war, but by widespread corruption. Therefore, Roosevelt’s words of more than a century ago are remarkably current and relevant when brought to us by Judge Moro:
There can be no crime more serious than bribery. Other offenses violate one law while corruption strikes at the foundation of all law. Under our form of Government all authority is vested in the people and by them delegated to those who represent them in official capacity. There can be no offense heavier than that of him in whom such a sacred trust has been reposed, who sells it for his own gain and enrichment; and no less heavy is the offense of the bribe giver. He is worse than the thief, for the thief robs the individual, while the corrupt official plunders an entire city or State. He is as wicked as the murderer, for the murderer may only take one life against the law, while the corrupt official and the man who corrupts the official alike aim at the assassination of the commonwealth itself. Government of the people, by the people, for the people will perish from the face of the earth if bribery is tolerated. The givers and takers of bribes stand on an evil pre-eminence of infamy. The exposure and punishment of public corruption is an honor to a nation, not a disgrace. …
Judge Moro stressed the last sentence in the citation, and read it twice out loud to the captivated audience.
He is convinced that the fight against corruption has a direct bearing on any country’s ability to strengthen and perfect its democracy, attract investment, create wealth and prosperity for its people. He is a true inspiration to all of us, and there is no doubt that his courageous and unprecedented work in the Car Wash investigation will mark a turning point in the fight against corruption in Latin America.
Roberto P. Bauzá, pictured above, is a partner of the law firm Rattagan Macchiavello Arocena in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a co-chair of the American Bar Association’s International Anti-corruption Committee.