Brazil: corruption, false information, Covid … The judicial pans of Jair Bolsonaro

Former Brazilian head of state Jair Bolsonaro has now been deprived of his presidential immunity since the election of Lula as head of the country. But the former far-right president has many pans behind him that could be the subject of legal proceedings, in particular his management of the Covid-19 pandemic or even on potential embezzlement of public funds.

After the assaults on Brazilian places of power on Sunday by his supporters, outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro, currently in Florida, denies any responsibility. If it is too early to determine any involvement of the leader of the Brazilian far right in these events, the former president is nevertheless targeted by at least four investigations in Brazil.

Justice is looking in particular at its mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic or even at potential embezzlement of public funds. These investigations have been postponed or halted so far due to his presidential immunity, which he no longer has since his defeat against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the October presidential election. France 24 takes stock of these delayed cases.

In 2018, in the middle of the presidential campaign, Flavio Bolsonaro, one of the sons of the ex-president, then deputy for Rio, was involved in a scandal of embezzlement of the salaries of parliamentary assistants.

Two years later, in May 2020, then President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro is accused by his Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro, of having exerted pressure to replace two federal police officials, and thus avoid investigations targeting two of his sons, including Flavio, accused of corruption.

Despite the denial of the Head of State, the Attorney General opened an investigation, still ongoing, into the accusations of the Minister of Justice, who resigned shortly after his accusations.

  • The dissemination of false electoral information

Jair Bolsonaro and the dissemination of fake news, a story that started as early as the 2018 presidential election. During the campaign between the two rounds, an investigation by the daily Folha de Sao Paulo revealed that companies supporting Jair Bolsonaro would have financed a false information campaign via the WhatsApp application. Tens of thousands of advertisements were reportedly sent to discredit his rival, left-wing candidate Fernando Haddad.

In addition, the former head of state is accused of having harbored within the presidency a “troll farm” intended to spread “fake news”. In 2020, a federal police investigation showed that this disinformation strategy was orchestrated by the presidential family itself. However, the sons of Jair Bolsonaro have always denied the existence of this cabinet.

More recently, in August 2021, Brazilian Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes ordered a “disinformation” investigation against the president, who questioned the validity of electronic voting, in place since 1996.

  • The disaster of the Covid-19 crisis

Rejection of containment measures, oxygen shortage, deliberate delays in vaccine orders… Jair Bolsonaro’s management of the Covid-19 crisis has been strongly criticized in Brazil, the country with more than 680,000 deaths attributed to disease.

On July 2, 2021, the Brazilian public prosecutor’s office announces the opening of an investigation into charges against Jair Bolsonaro, suspected of having failed to report an attempted corruption in the purchase of several million Covid-19 vaccines in originating from India.

In October 2021, a damning report by the parliamentary commission of inquiry accuses the government of Jair Bolsonaro of having deliberately exposed Brazilians to mass contamination with Covid-19. She is asking for her indictment for “crimes against humanity”.

  • Misappropriation of public funds

In July 2021, a new case puts Jair Bolsonaro under a little more pressure. The president’s ex-sister-in-law has released audio recordings from his time as a federal deputy. Andrea Siqueira Valle explains that her brother, parliamentary assistant to Jair Bolsonaro between 2006 and 2007, was fired after refusing to give part of his salary.

“That’s enough, we can get rid of him because he didn’t return the money as agreed,” we hear in the recording revealed by the UOL news site.

The attorney general’s office then opened an investigation into Jair Bolsonaro’s involvement in the theft of politicians’ salaries, a practice called “rachadinha – when employees of an elected official’s cabinet paid by the state donate part of their salary to their employer. Although this is a widespread practice in Brazil, it remains illegal.

  • The deforestation of the Amazon, a “crime against humanity”?

The rise of intensive agriculture, mining, oil extraction… Deforestation in the Amazon has worsened under the government of climate skeptic Jair Bolsonaro, jumping 150% during the last month of his mandate compared to December 2021.

In January 2021, cacique Raoni Matuktire, emblematic defender of the Amazon rainforest, asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate for “crimes against humanity” against the Brazilian president, accused of “persecuting” indigenous peoples in destroying their habitat and violating their fundamental rights.

In October 2021, an Austrian NGO in turn filed a complaint with the ICC for “crimes against humanity” against Jair Bolsonaro for his role in deforestation and its expected impacts on human life and health around the world.

  • A real estate heritage that questions

Finally, the real estate of the former president is also in the sights of justice. Between 1990 and 2022, Jair Bolsonaro, his mother, brothers, sisters and sons negotiated the purchase of 107 landholdings.

In August 2022, the Bolsonaro family’s finances were exposed by news site UOL, indicating that 51 of these properties had been paid for in whole or in part in cash, for a total of almost 4.8 million euros. euros. According to the findings of the UOL media, prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro are examining whether 25 of them were bought with money taken from staff salaries.

Asked about these new revelations, the former president was surprised: “What is the problem with the cash purchase of real estate, I do not know what is written in the article… What is the problem? (…) What do I have to do with their business?”, he continued about his children and family members who live in Vale do Ribeira (São Paolo).

Deprived of his presidential immunity since January 1, Jair Bolsonaro can now be prosecuted before the courts of first instance and no longer just the Supreme Court. Although the procedures could take years, analysts consider that the risk of imprisonment is very real.

The judicial future of the former president largely depends on the decisions of the judge of the Supreme Court, Alexandre de Moraes, main rapporteur of the investigations targeting him. But also the political calculations of Lula, himself convicted of corruption by the Supreme Court and imprisoned in 2018 and 2019.

In September 2023, Lula will be able to appoint a new attorney general, empowered to indict Jair Bolsonaro if his files remain in the hands of the Supreme Court, replacing the current prosecutor Augusto Aras, suspected of protecting Bolsonaro and currently suspended by judge Alexandre de Moraes .

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