July 14, 2024


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Brazilian police accuse Bolsonaro of embezzling Saudi jewelry

Brazilian police accuse Bolsonaro of embezzling Saudi jewelry

Brazil’s federal police have recommended criminal charges against former President Jair Bolsonaro in a scheme to embezzle jewelry he received as gifts from foreign leaders while in office, according to two people close to the investigation, adding another major legal challenge for Mr. Bolsonaro.

Federal police have charged Bolsonaro and 10 of his allies with trying to keep and sell expensive gifts he received from foreign governments, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the sealed case files. Police are seeking money laundering and criminal association charges against Bolsonaro and some of his allies, including former aides.

In one case, Mr. Bolsonaro and his team sought to hide $1 million worth of diamond jewelry the former president received from the Saudi government, according to previous investigative documents.

In another case, Bolsonaro’s team tried to sell a set of 18-karat gold from the Saudis for $50,000 at a Manhattan auction house during a Valentine’s Day sale last year, but failed. In a third case, they sold two luxury watches at a Pennsylvania shopping mall for $68,000, handing over some of the cash to Bolsonaro, the documents show.

Although Brazilian police call the recommended charges an “indictment” in Portuguese, Bolsonaro has not been charged. The country’s top federal prosecutor must now decide whether to charge Bolsonaro and force him to stand trial. The prosecutor general and Brazil’s Supreme Court said they had not yet received the police recommendations as of Thursday evening.

The case is part of the growing legal jeopardy facing the former Brazilian president, just 18 months after leaving office.

In March, federal police recommended that Bolsonaro be charged with plotting to falsify Covid-19 vaccination records, though federal prosecutors have not yet filed charges against him.

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In February, police confiscated his passport and ordered him to remain in Brazil while they investigated his role in what authorities say was a plot to cling to power after he lost the 2022 election. Days later, Mr. Bolsonaro spent two nights at the Hungarian Embassy in Brazil’s capital in an apparent attempt to seek asylum, according to security camera footage obtained by The New York Times.

If convicted in any of these cases, the former president could face prison time. Legal experts say the coup plot charges are the most likely to result in a prison sentence, while convictions in the jewelry or vaccine card cases could result in lighter sentences. Former presidents are not immune from prosecution in Brazil.

A photo released by Brazil’s Federal Revenue Service shows jewelry that is part of an investigation into gifts Bolsonaro received during his term.credit…Brazil’s Federal Revenue Service, via The Associated Press

Bolsonaro has denied the allegations and called the investigations political persecution. He and his lawyers have claimed the gifts were legally his. “All previous presidents had problems” with foreign gifts, Bolsonaro has said. He told the Brazilian newspaper Estadão: Last year. “The law is confusing.”

His lawyer declined to comment because he had not yet seen the documents recommending the charges.

Mr Bolsonaro has long drawn comparisons with former President Donald Trump, and while the two men share combative political styles and far-right policies, they also increasingly share similar legal challenges.

Trump, who has been convicted in one case and charged in three others, has also been accused of mishandling foreign gifts he received as president. House Democrats have accused the Trump White House of failing to properly account for more than 100 foreign gifts totaling more than $250,000. Nearly all of those gifts have now been accounted for.

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In Brazil, the jewelry affair began in 2021 when a Brazilian government official returning from an official visit to Saudi Arabia was arrested with nearly $1 million worth of undeclared diamond jewelry. The official told authorities the jewelry was a gift from Saudi officials to Mr. Bolsonaro and his wife, Michelle.

In June 2022, Bolsonaro’s personal assistant, Lt. Col. Mauro Cid, sold a diamond-encrusted Rolex and a Patek Philippe to a jewelry store in the Willow Grove Park mall in Pennsylvania, according to investigative documents. Police believe one of the watches was a gift from Saudi Arabia and the other from Bahrain.

The police have recommended that Mr. Syed be charged in this case. Mr. Syed had previously filed charges against Sign a plea agreement. With the authorities. His lawyer said Mr. Seid was carrying out Mr. Bolsonaro’s orders, which Mr. Bolsonaro denies.

Brazilian law allows the president to keep some gifts if they are personal in nature, but they should not be of high value, according to Bruno Dantas, president of Brazil’s Supervisory Court, the federal government’s de facto auditor. “If it’s a diamond necklace with the president’s name on it, he shouldn’t keep it,” Mr. Dantas told The Times last year.

Sometimes, a government-appointed commission steps in to determine what belongs to the president and what belongs to the state. That commission ruled that some of the jewelry Bolsonaro’s aides sought to sell was personal in nature.

That means the jewelry is legally his property, said Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Paulo Cunha-Bueno. “He can sell it,” Cunha-Bueno told The Times last year. “If he dies, the assets will go to his heirs.”

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The head of the government-appointed commission was among those charged by police with crimes. The Brazilian Supreme Court judge overseeing the investigation had previously said some evidence suggested Bolsonaro ordered the commission to rule that the jewels were his.

Other evidence, police said, shows that Bolsonaro and his allies sought to conceal their scheme. They operated mostly in cash, for example. In one WhatsApp exchange, Syed told a colleague that his father had $25,000 for the former president. “He was handing it over,” he said. “The less movement in the account, the better, right?”

After Mr. Dantas of the surveillance court ordered Mr. Bolsonaro to return the jewelry last year, Mr. Bolsonaro’s former lawyer, Frederic Wassef, traveled to Pennsylvania and bought the Saudi Rolex back for $49,000, police said.

Mr. Wassef later denied this to the Brazilian press, saying: “I have never seen this watch before.” He told Brazilian news site G1: Last year. “I dare you to prove it.”

News sites after that Post receipt With his name on it.

This week, police recommended that Mr. Wassef be charged with further money laundering and membership of a criminal gang.

Mr. Wassef said this week that Mr. Bolsonaro did not ask him to buy the Rolex. He said he did so on his own while on a trip to the United States to return it to the federal government, as the courts had requested. “I am doing all this just to practice law in defense of Jair Bolsonaro,” he said.

Paolo Motorin Contribution to the report from Brasilia.