Brazil police charge ex-President Bolsonaro in undeclared diamonds case, sources say


SAO PAULO – Brazil's federal police have accused former President Jair Bolsonaro of money laundering and criminal cooperation in connection with an undeclared diamond, a source with knowledge of the charges said.

A second source confirmed the indictment, but did not say what specific crimes were being alleged. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Brazil's Supreme Court has not yet received the police report with the indictment. Once it does, the country's prosecutor-general, Paulo Gonnet, will analyze the document and decide whether to file charges and force Bolsonaro to stand trial.

This is the second indictment against Bolsonaro since he left office, having previously been charged in May with allegedly falsifying Covid-19 vaccination certificates. But the indictment dramatically highlights the legal dangers facing the divisive former leader, who is lauded by his opponents but denounced as political persecution by his supporters.

Bolsonaro did not immediately comment, but he and his lawyers have previously denied any wrongdoing in both cases, as well as other investigations against the former president. One inquiry is looking into his possible involvement in inciting an uprising in the capital, Brasilia, on January 8, 2023, aimed at ousting his successor from power.

Last year, federal police accused Bolsonaro of stealing $3 million worth of diamond jewellery and selling two luxury watches.

Police said in August that Bolsonaro had obtained about $70,000 in cash from the sale of two luxury watches he had received as gifts from Saudi Arabia. Brazil requires its citizens arriving by plane from abroad to declare goods worth more than $1,000 and pay a tax equivalent to 50% of their value for any amount above that exemption.

If the jewel were a gift from Saudi Arabia to Brazil, it would not be taxed, but Bolsonaro wanted to keep it for himself. Instead, it would be added to the president's collection.

The investigation revealed that Mauro Cid, a former Bolsonaro aide who allegedly falsified his Covid-19 records, sold a Rolex watch and a Patek Philippe watch for a total of $68,000 to a store in the US in June 2022. The watches were gifted to him by the Saudi Arabian government in 2019. Cid later signed a plea deal with authorities and confirmed the same.

Flavio Bolsonaro, the former president's eldest son and a current senator, said after Thursday's indictment that the persecution against his father was “blatant and shameless”.

According to a source, in addition to Bolsonaro, police have also charged 10 other people, including Cid and his two lawyers Frederic Wassef and Fabio Wajngarten. Wassef said in a statement that he did not have access to the final report of the investigation, and condemned selective leaks to the press, as the investigation is being conducted under seal.

“I am doing all this solely to advocate in defense of Jair Bolsonaro,” he wrote.

In the case of X, Wajngarten said police have found no evidence against him. “The federal police know I haven’t done anything related to their investigation, but they still want to punish me because I provide an unwavering and enduring defense for former President Bolsonaro,” he said.

Bolsonaro maintains strong loyalty among his political base, as evidenced by the support he received in February, when an estimated 185,000 people blocked Sao Paulo's main thoroughfare and protested what the former president said was political persecution.

His critics, particularly members of the political party of his rival President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have welcomed every progress in the investigation and have repeatedly called for his arrest.

Psychologist Déborah Santos watched the news of Bolsonaro's impeachment at a bakery in the Vila Madelena neighborhood of São Paulo.

“It's great, because it breaks a pattern. Bolsonaro's supporters like to say how honest he is; everyone else is dishonest, except him,” said Santos, 52. “That's it: the police think he stole diamonds. That should end any politician's career.”

The 69-year-old former army captain began his political career as a staunch supporter of Brazil's military dictatorship and was a lawmaker for nearly three decades. When he first ran for president in 2018, he was widely dismissed as an outsider and too radical a conservative to be considered. But he surprised analysts with a decisive victory, thanks in large part to his self-portrayal as an upright citizen in the years following a sweeping corruption investigation that ensnared hundreds of politicians and officials.

Bolsonaro has insulted opponents since his early days in office, while facing criticism for his divisive policies, attacks on the Supreme Court and efforts to weaken health restrictions during the pandemic. He lost his re-election campaign in the closest race since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985.

Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, believes Brazil’s Supreme Court and the judge overseeing one of several investigations targeting Bolsonaro, Alexandre de Moraes, will not risk jailing the former president or imposing other harsh measures in any haste. The aim, he said, is to avoid provoking the far-right leader’s supporters and therefore making the cases against him more politically sensitive.

“This is a mayoral election year. Moraes and his fellow judges know that prosecuting a former president who is a popular figure will be even more difficult in a year like this,” Melo said. “This indictment is another piece of the puzzle. It gives another problem for Bolsonaro. There will be more problems.”

Last year, Brazil's top electoral court ruled that Bolsonaro had abused his presidential powers during his 2022 re-election campaign, making him ineligible to run for any election until 2030. The case centered on a meeting during which Bolsonaro used government employees, the state television channel and foreign ambassadors to tell them the country's electronic voting system was rigged.

This weekend Bolsonaro is expected to meet Argentine President Javier Milla at a conservative conference in Balneario Camboriu in southern Brazil.

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