Judge Sérgio Moro: 2018 Commencement Address

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(Remarks as prepared) 

Father John Jenkins, the Board of Trustees of the University of Notre Dame, members of the faculty, professors, staff: Thank you for the opportunity to be here. I am very honored.

To begin, let me congratulate all of you, the newest graduates, the Class of 2018. Graduation from the University of Notre Dame is a tremendous achievement. New challenges wait outside for you all, but this day is for joy and celebration. Congratulations.

I also want to congratulate the parents. It is not easy to raise sons and daughters, to try to teach them by words and example, to save for the costs of education and to hope that everything will somehow work out. So their success on this day is partly your success.

I am a judge in Brazil and - you probably don’t know - I am also a father. My younger child, a boy, is still in school. But my older daughter is attending law school in Brazil. I am proud just of her being there and I can barely imagine how proud I will be on her graduation day. Therefore, fathers and mothers and other relatives, I do have at least an idea about how deep your pride is at this moment. Congratulations.

Allow me to say that when I received the invitation to deliver this commencement speech, it was a great honor, and a challenge also, but it was above all a great surprise.

What does a judge of a Latin American country have to do with a Commencement ceremony of a distinguished university in the United States?

After some reflection, I concluded that after all this is really a small world.

I work on very hard cases involving criminal corruption in Brazil and it is necessary to say that I received great influence from the work of others - not only in Brazil but abroad.

Let me cite, for example, the work of the famous Italian judge Giovanni Falcone. Falcone was a judge in Sicily at a time when the Italian Mafia, the Cosa Nostra, lived with impunity and seemed to be invincible. The bosses were never punished for their crimes. At that time, in the 1980s, the Mafia killed policemen, prosecutors, judges and politicians - they killed even a General of the Italian Army -, anyone who dared to defy them. But with the work of Judge Falcone and his brave colleagues, the Mafia rule was put to an end. In a famous maxi-trial which took almost two years and finished in 1987, 344 Mafioso, including bosses, were finally convicted. The Sicily Mafia still exists but not anymore with the same power they had before. Most important - impunity is no longer the rule.

I remember reading in one of Falcone's books about the admiration he had for United States laws against organized crime and how the Rognoni-La Torre Act, the Italian statute approved in 1982 criminalizing mafia associations, was influenced by the RICO Act. RICO means Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations and it is a US statute approved in 1970.

What makes all this a very small world is that the RICO Act was drafted by a graduate from University of Notre Dame.

George Robert Blakey graduated here in philosophy and afterward in law, finishing his studies in 1960. He later served as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. Despite his rich academic and public service achievements, his work as one of the main drafters of the RICO Act deserves special emphasis. This statute gave to law enforcement agents the necessary tool to effectively dismantle criminal organizations. It was used, for example, to dismantle the five Mafia families of New York at the end of the last century. It influenced not only the La Torre Act but also similar statutes all around the world.

In my country, Blakey's work influenced Brazilian Act number 12.850 (twelve thousand, eight hundred and fifty), approved in 2013 (two thousand, thirteen), which defined criminal organizations and also gave to Brazilian law enforcement agents the necessary investigative tools to focus on crimes committed by them, including wiretaps or plea agreements with members of organized crime. It had a large impact on corruption cases in the Lava Jato Operation about which I will speak later.

What does all this tell you?

To me, it means that everything is connected in this small world and you could have a reasonable expectation that what you do here in the US, or more specifically at the University of Notre Dame, could have a positive impact abroad, all around the globe. This makes your responsibilities even bigger.

Now, allow me to say something about Brazil and my work there because that is in part the reason for me being here. I think it is possible to extract some general lessons or suggestions for you from what is happening in Brazil.

Brazil is the biggest country in Latin America and it is the eighth largest economy in the world.

It has a lot of points in common with the US.

Of course, we don't have as strong an economy as the US. Brazil also does not have such a great influence on global affairs.

Anyhow, we have our place in the world and we are happy to be a part of it.

But, as I said, Brazil and the US have points in common, for example in their history.

After all, we are Americans in the New World, with all that represents.

We got our independence in 1822 (eighteen, twenty two). You got yours in 1776 (seventeen, seventy six).

Both country suffered with slavery in the 19th century.

Both countries received millions of immigrants from all over the world. In Brazil we have not only Portuguese but Italians, Japanese, Germans, Lebanese and Spanish.

Our democracy is not as old as US democracy. To be honest we have suffered since our independence several dictatorship. The last one ended in 1985 (nineteen, eight five). Since then, Brazilian citizens have recovered all their democratic rights and freedoms.

Since then it is possible to say that we, like you here, have the same dreams of liberty and equality.

However, after recovering our democracy, we have still made several mistakes.

It seems that we in Brazil, as a people, failed to prevent the misuse and abuse of public power for private gain. So corruption grew and in time it became widespread, endemic or even systemic.

Anyway since 2014 a giant investigation under my jurisdiction was started. It is about millions of dollars in bribes paid in public contracts to public officials and high-level politicians. The case is named the Lavajato Operation. In English, they call it the “Car Wash Operation.”

It is not possible to describe here everything about the case – or to explain exactly why it has such a strange name.

But let me say that different from our past of impunity for grand corruption, this time several powerful criminals are being tried by due process and being held accountable. Nowadays as a result of this investigation more than 157 persons were convicted for bribery and money laundering. Among them there are powerful businessmen and politicians like executives and CEOs of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, executives of Petrobras, which is a Brazilian state owned company, and high-level politicians, like congressmen, a former governor, a former secretary of finance of the federal government, a former speaker of the house and even a former president.

It is interesting to note that it was also discovered that some bribes were also paid by Brazilian companies for public officials and politicians abroad, for example in other Latin America countries. Some of these countries received the evidence and are building their own cases. Because of that some people say there is an anticorruption wave all over Latin America.

And to be honest, this may be happening in many, many parts of the world. We all recently heard news about corruption charges and convictions against the Former President of South Africa and the Former President of South Korea.

In Brazil, I am just one of many people working on this criminal investigation. It is the product of an institutional action by judges, prosecutors and police officers.

This work has not been easy. Old habits of systemic corruption and impunity are hard to overcome.

There are threats, menaces, risks and attempts at defamation. Some criminals and their allies don’t want to change the status quo of bribery and impunity. And they are many and they are powerful.

Despite that, the investigation, the prosecution and the trials are in progress and Brazilian people support them. Since 2015 millions of Brazilians citizens went to the streets to protest against corruption and in support of the Car Wash probe. A poll in April showed that 84 percent of Brazilians want the probe to continue.

Of course, the systemic corruption uncovered in Brazil is shameful. But there is another way to look at this picture. There is no shame in the enforcement of the law. As once said by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, "The exposure and punishment of public corruption is an honor to a nation, not a disgrace.”

All these efforts are worthy. All Brazilians have an infinite hope that at the end we will have a stronger economy and a democracy with more integrity and with a better overall quality.

In summary, we don't want be known as a kind of bribe nation but as a strong and modern democracy with rule of law.

What the case taught me - not as judge but as a man - is that you should never give up on a fight for a good cause.

Not so long ago, corruption and impunity seemed invincible. For some it was a kind of natural fate, a tropical disease. In truth it is just a product of institutional weakness. No country is destined to live with it. You can deal with the problem and reduce impunity and corruption. You just need the political will to do so.

I don’t know what will happen with Brazil's future. We could suffer setbacks. But I do believe we have given ourselves at least a chance to have a better country. Anyway, I believe that what really matters is what you stand for and fighting for integrity in public life is a worthy cause.

Coming to the last part of my speech, let me say again that you are in a day of joy and celebration. You are graduating from the University of Notre Dame, this distinguished institution. You will start a new stage of your lives. You will be lawyers, judges, physicians, engineers, scientists, astronauts, professors, whatever your wishes and your talents are capable of.

I really hope that you all will be happy in your careers and also in your private lives.

But although it is true that “every person exists as an end in himself,” as Kant, the Königsberg philosopher has said, it is also true that “no man is born for himself,” as Walwyn, one of the Levellers of the old England taught.

Never forget to act with integrity and with virtue in your private and public life. Never stop fighting for these values within your community. Never give up on demanding virtue and integrity from your government.

Never forget the cornerstone of democratic nations, which is the rule of law. It means that everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law. In this meaning it works to protect the most vulnerable. But it also means that no one is above the law. Thomas Fuller, also from old England, once said “Be you never so high, the law is above you.” That is what makes democracies a government by law. This is a lesson not only for Brazil but even to mature democracies.

Democracy starts to fade when citizens turn their backs on public matters, and when citizens stop caring if their government works for the common good or only for special interests.

Allow me to give four short suggestions from my experience. There are not suggestions for future criminal judges, prosecutors or police officers, although some of you could hold an office like that in the future. These are suggestions for citizens concerned for their liberties and rights, including freedom from a corrupted government.

First, as I said earlier, never give up on a fight for a good cause. Even if you lose, what really matters is what you stand for.

Second, always remember that even in the most difficult moments, when it seems that the challenges before you are insurmountable, you will never be alone if you are fighting for a just cause or for justice.

Third, remember that your behavior can inspire others. You will be surprised by how other people could help if they have good examples and receive the right incentives.

Fourth, never surrender to the evils of corruption or despair. Above all, there is no victory if along the path you lose your soul.

Now, take a moment and look around you. Beside you are your friends. You will probably carry these friendships for the rest of your life. Real friends are forever. Take another moment and look a little bit further. There are your parents, your relatives, your professors and also the University personnel. They all care for you and you care for all of them.

But now take a longer moment and think about the larger picture, about the country you live in and the small world that we all live together and share. Beyond the personal pursuit of happiness it is also your duty to care for them. Not only for integrity and virtue, but also for the well-being of all. We face new challenges in this new century. We still live in a world of deep inequality, where not everyone is free or has the necessary minimum to live with dignity.

Some say there is a risk of democratic retreat in the world. I am not sure I believe in this because of the enduring strength of democratic values, freedom and equality. They are at the core of our hearts and minds, and they are celebrated at cherished institutions like the University of Notre Dame. It is incumbent upon all of you to defend our liberties and rights, and to continue the fight for true democracy. There is still much to be done. I hope that you all are successful. Thank you all for your attention, good luck and Godspeed - or as we say in Brazil, “boa sorte e vão com Deus.”