Brazil investigates undeclared $3 million jewelry gift to Bolsonaro
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian Justice Minister Flavio Dino on Monday ordered police to investigate an alleged attempt to bring in undeclared jewelry, a gift from Saudi Arabia valued at $3.2 million, to former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
The diamond necklace, ring, watch and earrings gifted to Bolsonaro and former first lady Michelle Bolsonaro by the Saudi government were seized by customs officials at Sao Paulo's international airport in October 2021.
The luxury jewelry, made by Chopard of Switzerland, were found in the backpack of a government aide who had traveled to Riyadh with then Energy Minister Admiral Bento Albuquerque.
The Saudi embassy did not reply to a request for comment at the time.
Bolsonaro, who left for the United States two days before his term ended in December without conceding defeat in his re-election bid, has denied committing any illegality, but his leftist successor President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called for an investigation. A cabinet minister called it "smuggling."
The investigation could add to the legal liabilities that Bolsonaro faces if and when he returns to Brazil, from probes into the inciting of violent protest by his supporters after he left office to criticism of Brazil's electronic voting system.
Brazilians are allowed to bring in $1,000 of goods or gifts and pay hefty taxes for anything over that value.
Bolsonaro's critics said gifts to president belong to the state and must go into a presidential collection. It is not clear what the intention of the Bolsonaros was in this case.
Dino ordered the federal police to investigate media reports that it was an attempt "to enter the jewels that would be delivered to the former president without complying with legal procedures" and could constitute a crime under the penal code.
The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reported on Sunday that there was a second package of Chopard items gifted by the Saudi government, including a pen, cufflinks, a ring and a rosary, that were in the luggage of another member of Albuquerque's delegation and were not found by the customs officials.
Brazil's Federal Revenue Service also said on Monday it will investigate whether customs laws were complied with for the entry into the country of the second package of jewelry. It said gifts to a president and his wife should were state assets.
In his only public comment on the jewelry, Bolsonaro said he was being "crucified" for a gift he never asked for and never received.
($1 = 5.2093 reais)
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Aurora Ellis)