Bolsonaro’s Mounting Legal Troubles Raise Prospect of His Arrest

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(Bloomberg) -- Former Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has found himself in a tailspin of legal trouble since leaving office at the end of last year.

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Police have raided his home. He has testified to authorities on four separate occasions. Some of his closest allies have been arrested. And late Thursday, local news outlets reported that a top judge granted investigators access to his bank and tax records.

Brazil’s electoral authority barred the right-wing former leader from seeking public office for eight years in June. Now Bolsonaro’s growing legal problems have raised the prospect that he may ultimately face arrest and jail time.

The 68-year-old former army captain, who spread conspiracies about vote fraud throughout last year’s election, is facing investigations over whether he played a role in Jan. 8 riots in Brasilia, when supporters stormed major government buildings in an apparent effort to overturn his defeat to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Since returning from self-imposed, post-election exile in Florida, he has also become the subject of probes into accusations of falsified Covid-19 vaccine records, allegations of a plot to bug the judge spearheading investigations against him, and whether he attempted to sell expensive jewelry and other gifts he received as president.

Bolsonaro denies any wrongdoing in each of the cases. And like Donald Trump, he has often claimed he is the victim of a politicized witch hunt.

The cases against Bolsonaro are led by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. In 2019, the judge was tapped to oversee a sprawling investigation, widely known as the Fake News Inquiry, that has examined Bolsonaro’s role in spreading disinformation against the court and its members. He has since authorized a half-dozen probes into alleged crimes committed during and after Bolsonaro’s time in office.

Read More: Brazil’s Top Judge Gives Police Access to Bolsonaro Bank Records

Many of them have converged. In May, federal authorities arrested Lt. Col. Mauro Cid, who served as Bolsonaro’s right-hand man during his presidency. While in custody, Cid has provided testimony in multiple cases, contributing to the perception among both Bolsonaro’s opponents and allies that authorities may be closing in.

Here’s a timeline of the main cases involving the former president:

April 5, 2023: Saudi Jewelery Scandal

Bolsonaro gives deposition about the alleged embezzlement of jewelry he received as gifts from the king of Saudi Arabia while president. The jewelry includes a diamond necklace, earrings and watch made by the Swiss brand Chopard, along with other items. In total, it was valued at $3 million.

In 2021, customs officials seized a suitcase containing jewelry from a member of a Brazilian delegation returning to Sao Paulo’s international airport.

Brazilian law states anyone arriving by plane from abroad must declare goods above $1,000 — and pay taxes of 50% on any amount above that exemption. Official gifts would be tax exempt. But Brazilian officials aren’t allowed to keep most valuable gifts, and must place them in public collections maintained by the state.

April 26, 2023: Jan. 8 Riots

Bolsonaro provides deposition about his supposed links to an attempted insurrection on Jan. 8, when his supporters ransacked key government buildings, including congress and the presidential palace.

He told investigators that he had “turned the page” on his narrow defeat to Lula. In the lead up the election, Bolsonaro repeatedly made baseless claims that the country’s electronic voting machines were vulnerable to fraud and manipulation — some of which led to his eight-year ban from office in June.

Read More: Bolsonaro Tells Police He Moved Beyond Election Before Riots

Bolsonaro never explicitly recognized Lula’s victory and skipped his Jan. 1 inauguration. He has used the fact that he was in Florida on Jan. 8 to argue that he had no involvement in the riots.

May 16, 2023: Fake Covid-19 Records

Bolsonaro gives deposition as part of an investigation into falsified Covid-19 records. Police allege that aides of the former president tampered with immunization data in the national health database to produce Covid vaccination certificates to meet entry requirements for other countries, including the US.

Read More: Bolsonaro Denies Wrongdoing After Police Raid in Covid Probe

Earlier in May, authorities raided Bolsonaro’s home in Brasilia as part of the probe. They also arrested Cid, who acted as Bolsonaro’s personal secretary during his four-year term. Bolsonaro is a vocal coronavirus skeptic and says he was never vaccinated.

“I didn’t take the vaccine, period. I never denied that,” Bolsonaro told reporters as he denied the allegations in May.

July 12, 2023: Plot to Record Moraes

Bolsonaro gives deposition as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to secretly record conversations of Moraes that could be used as a basis for overturning last year’s election. The supposed plan, which was never put into action, was first brought to public attention by Senator Marcos do Val, a Bolsonaro ally.

Federal police raided do Val’s homes and senate office in June. According to the senator, he, Bolsonaro and a former congressman discussed recording Moraes, who also heads Brazil’s electoral authority, in an effort to find evidence of a bias toward Lula that would cast doubt on the result.

Ahead of the vote, Moraes regularly clashed with Bolsonaro over his spreading of debunked claims about the safety of the voting system. Bolsonaro has denied that there was any plan to monitor the judge.

Aug. 17, 2023: Bank Records Shared

Moraes authorizes federal police to access the bank and tax records of Bolsonaro and his wife as part of an ongoing investigation into the suspected sale of jewelry the couple received as gifts from Saudi Arabia, according to local media.

Police made the request the week prior after executing search warrants at the homes of several people purportedly involved in a plot to sell luxury watches abroad and kick money back to Bolsonaro, including a four-star general who is the father of Cid, the former aide.

--With assistance from Beatriz Reis.

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