Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, made an official statement to mourn the death of Supreme Court judge Teori Zavascki, who was killed in a plane crash on Thursday, January 19.
Temer declared three days of national mourning in Brazil for the death of the Justice, who was in charge of Lava Jato (Car Wash) the court’s investigation into a wide-ranging corruption scandal.
“He was a good man and a source of pride for all Brazilians,” Temer said. “I join all Brazilians to regret the passing of a public man distinguished by his impeccable trajectory in defense of the law and justice,” he added.
Former President Dilma Rousseff, who appointed Zavascki to the Supreme Court in 2012, also issued a statement mourning his death.
“Today we lost a great Brazilian. As a judge and a citizen, Teori was an intellectual of the law and a man who cared for justice,” Rousseff said.
Former presidents José Sarney and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also voiced their grief.
Brazilian media reports said Zavascki had received threats in the past year, one of them he confirmed last June as linked with his investigating of a corruption scheme involving government contracts with the private sector, especially Brazil’s oil giant Petrobras.
His death in the Thursday plane crash came several days after media reported he was about to admit key testimonies implicating high-profile politicians.
There were five people aboard the plane flying from São Paulo to Paraty, about 260 km west of the city of Rio, according to Brazilian media. The plane crashed into the sea during poor weather conditions shortly before reaching Paraty.
“Justice Teori Zavascki had been strongly driving the Car Wash investigation in the Supreme Court. It’s hard to believe this was a mere accident,” tweeted Alan Mansur, director of the National Association of Prosecutors.
Federal police said late Thursday that they were launching an investigation.
Authorities said that three bodies had been recovered so far. The other dead men were identified as businessman Carlos Alberto Filgueiras and pilot Osmar Rodrigues. The identities of the remaining two were not released.
While the largest corruption probe in Brazil’s history has been led by a team of prosecutors and Judge Sergio Moro in the southern city of Curitiba, Zavascki handled cases involving politicians. Under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can decide to charge or jail federal politicians.
Most recently, Zavascki had been reviewing the dozens of plea bargains of former and current executives of the big Odebrecht construction company, which was one of the main players in the kickback scheme at Petrobras that investigators allege involved more than US$ 2 billion in bribes over a decade. Over the last two years, dozens of politicians and businessmen have been jailed in the sprawling probe.
Sergio Moro, the Curitiba judge, issued a statement after the crash saying he was “perplexed” and calling Zavascki a “Brazilian hero.”
“Without him, we would not have had the Car Wash operation,” Moro wrote. “I hope that his legacy, of serenity and firmness in law enforcement, regardless of the powerful interests involved, is not forgotten”.