BRASILIA (Reuters) - Sergio Moro, who became a household name in Brazil as the judge that led the country's largest ever corruption probe, re-entered the political fray on Wednesday, presenting himself as a unifying centrist ahead of presidential elections next year.
Moro, 49, who jailed former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for corruption and then became justice minister under President Jair Bolsonaro before accusing him of misconduct and resigning, joined the center-right Podemos party offering a solution to Brazil's polarized politics.
Although Moro's corruption busting brought him fame, his star has fallen in recent years as Lula's conviction was reversed and he joined Bolsonaro's government.
"I never had political ambitions. I just want to help," he said in a speech at his affiliation to the party, adding that he was available to be a presidential candidate if necessary as an alternative to the expected face-off between Bolsonaro and Lula in October.
"There are other good names that have come forward so that the country can escape the extremes of lies, corruption and return to the past," he said.
Moro left the judiciary to join far-right Bolsonaro's cabinet as justice minister in 2019 determined to wipe out corruption in Brazil.
But he resigned last year after criticizing Bolsonaro for interfering in the police force allegedly to protect his sons in corruption investigations.
Moro said he would be an anti-corruption candidate who would focus on eradicating poverty, reforming the state and privatizing its many enterprises that have been a source of graft and bribery.
He rose to fame in 2015 as the federal judge conducting the high-profile Lava Jato, or Car Wash, investigation that uncovered a multi-billion-dollar graft and bribery scheme, mainly involving state oil company Petrobras, that led to the arrest of dozens of business executives and politicians.
Lula was jailed in 2018 on a corruption conviction handed down by Moro for receiving bribes from an engineering company that won government contracts when he was president.
He was released a year and a half later after the Supreme Court annulled his convictions when it overturned a rule that defendants should be jailed after losing their first appeal.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; writing by Anthony Boadle; editing by Nick Macfie)