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The Judge Who Could Remake Brazil

How Sergio Moro Has Tackled Corruption

Sergio Moro in São Paulo, October 2016. Paulo Whitaker / REUTERS

The difference between the world’s most corrupt countries—the Afghanistans, Angolas, Nigerias, Ukraines, and Venezuelas of the globe—and those that are on the path to probity is visionary leadership. Botswana, for example, had Seretse Khama. Singapore had Lee Kuan Yew, and Georgia had Mikheil Saakashvili. Rwanda has transformed under Paul Kagame, and China’s Xi Jinping has made great strides against graft. Indeed, as recent research by me and scholars in Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom confirms, committed leadership makes the biggest difference in reducing corruption, especially when it is deeply entrenched.

That is good news for Brazil, where Sergio Moro is leading the charge against long-standing and endemic corruption. Moro is not a politician, but his actions as a federal judge have modeled a unique kind of leadership that has had a profound impact on Brazil’s approach to corruption. As Gustavo de Oliveira, a law professor at the University of São Paulo, told The Washington Post, Moro’s work is “transforming what had been widespread indifference to the problem of graft in Brazil. It is bringing a very significant change of values in Brazilian society.”

For more than two years, Moro, who is based in the southern state of Parana, has heard one case after another relating to systematic theft from the national coffers. In that time, he has jailed more than 40 politicians and business executives. The punishments handed down by Moro have all but ended the tradition of impunity among Brazil’s political class and given ordinary Brazilians hope for reform. In fact, although Moro’s critics have accused him of crusading, Brazilians of all classes and backgrounds generally welcome his charge. On numerous occasions, younger Brazilians have taken to the streets in Manaus, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and other cities to protest proposed legislation to curb Moro’s reach.

Such legislation has never gained much traction against Moro, an earnest 44-year-old judge’s judge whose position is analogous to

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