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Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched a homophobic attack on a journalist from one of the country’s top newspapers in an apparent bid to divert attention from a spiraling corruption scandal involving his son.
“You look terribly like a homosexual,” Bolsonaro – who has previously boasted of being “proudly” homophobic – told the reporter, when asked about the politically explosive money-laundering inquiry that saw investigators raid a series of addresses linked to his family on Thursday.
Many observers interpreted the outburst – which came as a new poll showed Bolsonaro’s approval ratings hitting record lows – as a deliberate attempt to draw the media’s gaze away from the investigation into his senator son Flávio.
But Bolsonaro’s homophobic comment served only to further highlight the inquiry into whether Flávio Bolsonaro oversaw a corruption racket during his time as a lawmaker in Rio de Janeiro. Part of the investigation focuses on suspicions Flávio laundered money through a chocolate shop registered with authorities under the name Bolsotini.
Manuela D’Ávila, a prominent leftist politician, tweeted: “Bolsonaro is committing the crime of homophobia in order to make us forget his son’s schemes. But we won’t forget. He’s a homophobe and his son …”
The scandal has the potential to cause serious problems for Brazil’s president, who swept to power last year promising to eradicate corruption after what some called the greatest corruption scandal in history.
Particularly compromising are the apparent connections, suggested by the investigation, between members of Rio’s mafia and the Bolsonaro family.
One of those allegedly involved in Flávio Bolsonaro’s suspected corruption scheme is the wife of Adriano da Nóbrega, a former special forces police operative who is currently on the run and is suspected of running a gang of contract killers one Brazilian newspaper has called Rio’s “most lethal and secretive phalanx of hired guns”.
Members of that group are suspected to have taken part in the 2018 murder of Rio politician Marielle Franco.
On Friday, a new poll showed the number of Brazilians who disapprove of Bolsonaro’s administration had jumped to 53%. Those who thought it bad or awful stood at 38%, compared with 27% after he took office.
Bolsonarista officials have rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing. The presidential spokesman, Fábio Wajngarten, this week denounced what he called the media’s “insane and abominable persecution” of the Bolsonaros.
In a YouTube video posted on Thursday, Flávio Bolsonaro insisted he had nothing to hide, and claimed the investigation was part of a “conspiracy” involving “many powerful people” to destabilize Brazil and force his father from power.