efe-epaRio de Janeiro

The Brazilian judge who put former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva behind bars accepted Thursday an appointment as justice minister in the incoming administration of rightist Jair Bolsonaro.

Sergio Moro, 46, announced he would be joining the new government after a 90-minute conversation in Rio de Janeiro with Bolsonaro, who said during the campaign that he saw the judge as a future justice minister or member of Brazil's Supreme Court.

"After the personal meeting during which policies for the ministry were discussed, I was honored to accept the invitation," Moro said in a statement released by his office. "I accepted with a degree of regret because I will have to abandon a career of 22 years as a judge."

From his position on the federal bench, Moro has spearheaded the Lava Jato (Car Wash) probe, which was initially focused on a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated-contracts scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.

Moro convicted Lula - Brazil's most popular politician - of having accepted bribes from a construction company in the form of renovations to a seaside condo that the former president never owned or occupied.

The conviction was upheld on appeal and Lula has been behind bars since April, which led to his being barred from the presidential election amid polls showing that he would have won by a wide margin.

Hailed by many in Brazil and abroad as a standard-bearer of the fight against corruption, Moro is a villain to supporters of Lula's center-left Workers Party (PT), who view the prosecution of the two-term head of a state as politically motivated.

"The fraud of the century!, Judge Sergio Mora will be minister of justice in the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who only managed to get elected because Lula was convicted unjustly and prevented from taking part in the election," PT Gleisi Hoffmann said on Twitter.

Looking back on the course of the Lavo Jato investigation, Hoffmann recalled how Moro ordered the tapping of then-President Dilma Rousseff's telephone in 2016 and released recordings of conversations between Rousseff and Lula.

Moro's case against Lula, who denies any wrongdoing, was based largely on plea-bargained testimony from people already convicted of corruption offenses.

Fernando Haddad, Lula's replacement as PT presidential candidate, also commented on the Moro appointment.

"If the concept of democracy escapes our elites, much more does the concept of a republic," he wrote on Twitter days after losing the election to Bolsonaro. "The meaning of the selection of Sergio Moro as Minister of Justice will only be comprehended by international media and forums."