Sergio Moro, the ex-judge behind "Operation Car Wash," the biggest corruption crack-down in Brazilian history, joined a centrist political party Wednesday and said he was weighing a run in presidential elections next year.
Moro, who sent a laundry list of political heavyweights and business executives to jail as lead judge in an investigation into massive corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras, held a news conference in Brasilia to announce he had joined the Podemos party and was eying the 2022 polls.
The 49-year-old anti-corruption crusader's name has been floated as a potential "third-way" candidate in what is shaping up to be a heavyweight showdown next October between far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and the biggest figure of all jailed by Moro, leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
But Moro trails well behind both in opinion polls, and would face a crowded field of other "third-way" contenders if he decides to enter the race.
"If it's necessary to lead that project, my name will always be available to the Brazilian people," Moro said.
"There are other good names that have been presented to help the country escape these two extremes of lying, corruption and backsliding.
"But I won't shrink from that fight, even though I know it will be difficult."
However, Moro's brand has been damaged since he quit the judiciary to become Bolsonaro's justice minister in 2019.
The move fueled the arguments of critics on the left who said Car Wash was more about political persecution than fighting graft.
The damage only increased when internal communications from the operation were leaked to the media that appeared to show Moro and investigators conspiring to keep Lula (2003-2010) from staging a come-back in Brazil's 2018 presidential race.
Moro later had a falling-out with Bolsonaro and quit the government in April 2020, accusing the president of interfering in police investigations targeting his inner circle.
Polls give Moro less than 10 percent of the vote in October 2022, compared to 26 percent for Bolsonaro and 44 percent for Lula.
Jailed in 2018, then released in 2019 pending appeal, Lula was cleared to run for election again when the Supreme Court annulled his corruption convictions on procedural grounds last April.