Scandal grows around Bolsonaro's politician son

Marc BURLEIGH
Flavio Bolsonaro (L), pictured with his father Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, is under growing scrutiny by a government financial watchdog (AFP Photo/Fernando Souza)

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - A suspect payments scandal involving Jair Bolsonaro's son dogged the Brazilian president's maiden foreign trip Monday to attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Flavio Bolsonaro, a senator in the incoming congress, is under growing scrutiny by a government financial watchdog because of 48 deposits made to his bank account in 2017 for a total $30,000, as well as persistent questions over $300,000 in transactions detected in the account of a former close aide.

The suspicions are an embarrassment to the president, who won election on promises to stamp out the corruption that has long plagued Brazilian politics.

The younger Bolsonaro has come out swinging, denying any wrongdoing.

"I have nothing to hide," he told Brazilian TV network Record late Sunday, claiming he was the victim of "persecution."

Waving documents, he said the money came from the sale and purchase of an apartment, adding that the payment of a million reais ($300,000) to a federal loans account was related to the property deal.

Brazil's anti-financial crimes COAF agency tasked with monitoring financial transactions discovered that 48 deposits of 2,000 reais were made into Flavio's account over five days in June and July 2017, many just minutes apart, according to media citing a COAF report.

The total deposited was 96,000 reais (equivalent to $30,000 at the average exchange rate for this year). The 2,000-real threshold is below a requirement for the person making a deposit to show their identity.

Flavio, in the interview, said "this money is mine, deposited in my own account... There is no mystery. Everything is declared, proven. If it was illicit, do you think it would be deposited in my account?"

- Undeclared loan -

The revelations come on top of transactions between 2016 and 2017 involving his former driver and bodyguard, police officer Fabricio Queiroz. Some money was deposited in the account of Jair Bolsonaro's wife.

The president has said the money put in his wife's account came from an undeclared loan he made to Queiroz.

Queiroz has declined to testify to COAF over the money, asserting ill health. But he has told media the money came from side businesses he ran, mainly buying and selling cars.

Brazil's supreme court last week suspended an investigation into Queiroz's transactions at the younger Bolsonaro's request.

Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro told reporters that injunction only applied to potential criminal aspects of the transactions, but that the non-criminal part of the probe would still go ahead.

Until he was elected to the senate, Flavio Bolsonaro was a deputy in Rio de Janeiro's state legislature.

Adding to the suspicions, a columnist in the O Globo newspaper, Lauro Jardim, on Sunday wrote that seven million reais passed through Queiroz's account between 2014 and 2017.

Presidential spokesman Rego Barros told Brazilian media that Bolsonaro has cancelled a planned media conference at the Davos summit to avoid being questioned about his son's transactions while he meets with the world's political and financial elite.