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Brazil police nab 4 for alleged hacking of minister's phone

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's federal police arrested four people for allegedly hacking the phone of Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, a key member of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's Cabinet who had previously been a renowned anti-corruption judge.

A judge ordered the arrests of Gustavo Henrique Elias Santos, Suelen Priscila de Oliveira, Danilo Cristiano Marques and Walter Delgatti Neto, who live in three different cities in São Paulo state. The judge said the group invaded messaging app accounts of Moro, two federal judges and two federal police investigators.

The ruling issued Friday by judge Vallisney de Souza Oliveira was made public Wednesday.

Moro, who also heads Brazil's federal police, said on June 5 that his phone had been hacked.

Four days later, the Brasil website The Intercept and other media outlets started publishing reports based on leaked messaging app exchanges between Moro and prosecutors dating back to the minister's time as a judge in a corruption investigation known as "Operation Car Wash," which led to the arrests of many of Brazil's business and political elite, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The judge's ruling does not establish a direct link between the arrests and the reported exchanges.

Oliveira said in his decision that "there are strong indications the suspects formed a criminal organization to commit crimes, and joined together to violate the phone secrecy of several Brazilian authorities through the invasion of the Telegram app."

The Intercept Brasil and its partners never revealed the source of the messages they published, which suggested inappropriate exchanges between Moro and prosecutors in the da Silva case, among other exchanges. Its editors said they had already been handed the reported messages when Moro claimed he had been hacked.

But Moro said on Twitter the suspects "have criminal records, are involved in several types of crime," and they were "the source of trust to those who published the alleged messages obtained through crime."

The judge also said the group made suspicious transactions estimated at $167,000 between April 18 and June 29.

Moro is hailed by many Brazilians as an anti-corruption hero, but is criticized by others that see him as an anti-leftist zealot.

His credibility as an unbiased and tough judge in the sprawling Car Wash probe was put in doubt after reports based on leaked messages accused him instructing prosecutors in the da Silva case, which is against Brazilian law.

Da Silva, who was president in 2003-2010, was convicted of corruption and money laundering over a beachfront apartment that prosecutors say he received from a construction company in exchange for lucrative government contracts. He denies he is guilty.

Moro does not acknowledge the veracity of the exchanges reported and insists even if they were true there would be no wrongdoing in the statements made to Car Wash prosecutors.

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