RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian police on Thursday searched homes and offices of former President Jair Bolsonaro’s top aides in an investigation alleging they plotted a coup and that the ex-president was aware of the plan, court documents showed.
The alleged plot in the event Bolsonaro lost the 2022 election involved having him sign a decree declaring the vote fraudulent to justify a possible military intervention and convene new elections. Though Bolsonaro did lose the election, the right-wing leader never issued the decree to set the final stage of the alleged plot into motion.
Bolsonaro was not himself a target of Thursday’s searches, but like others was ordered to forfeit his passport, according to a decision by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes made public Thursday.
Police said in a statement that they searched several homes and offices of suspects who “acted to attempt a coup d’etat” that would have kept Bolsonaro in power after his October 2022 election defeat to leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Police alleged the group had prepared to allege voting fraud “in order to enable and legitimize a military intervention.”
Supreme Court documents authorizing the searches show that police claim that Filipe Martins, a special adviser, presented Bolsonaro a draft decree ahead of the election that included ordering the arrest of two Supreme Court justices, including Moraes, who presided over the election body overseeing the election.
Bolsonaro allegedly asked to have several items removed from the decree, while keeping a call for new elections and modifying the order to arrest only one of the Supreme Court justices — de Moraes. Bolsonaro also allegedly called a meeting with the heads of the armed forces to present the modified plan and get them to “adhere” to it.
The targets of Thursday’s 33 searches included Martins, and Bolsonaro’s 2022 running mate, Gen. Walter Braga Netto; a former adviser, Gen. Augusto Heleno; former Justice Minister Anderson Torres and the head of Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, Valdemar Costa Neto, the decision said.
Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Fabio Wajngarten, said on X, formerly Twitter, that Bolsonaro would comply with the order to hand over his passport. A Bolsonaro aide among the search targets was with the former president at the time of the Thursday morning operation, Wajngarten said.
The aide was asked to return to Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, to put Bolsonaro in compliance with an order not to have any contact with individuals under investigation, the lawyer said.
Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said Thursday’s revelations were a major turn of events for Bolsonaro.
“Until now, he could always say he didn’t know about this,” Melo said. But the content of the Supreme Court decision, a 135-page long document, suggests this is no longer the case, he said.
The investigation allegedly found evidence of meetings between public officials and members of the military to discuss the way in which the government and armed forces could back and even finance pro-Bolsonaro protestors. Several top members of the military were targeted by search warrants Thursday.
The investigation claims officials monitored the movements of de Moraes, presumably to arrest him if the draft decree was issued.
Bolsonaro repeatedly sowed doubt about the reliability of Brazil’s voting system, never conceded defeat and declined to attend Lula’s inauguration, though he left the country and kept a low profile in the days ahead of Lula’s swearing in on Jan. 1, 2023.
On Jan. 8, 2023, Bolsonaro supporters launched a rampage in the capital, in an apparent unsuccessful attempt to prompt a military coup to restore him to power.
It had been the closest presidential race in Brazil’s modern history.
Bolsonaro and his political party filed a request to annul ballots cast on most electronic voting machines, which would have overturned results. The bid was rejected, and de Moraes wrote in his decision that the challenge appeared aimed at incentivizing anti-democratic protest movements and creating tumult.
Lula, who remains in office, told a radio station in Minas Gerais on Thursday that it wasn’t his place to comment on a sealed investigation.
But he added that he believed that the Jan. 8 uprising would not have occurred without the former president’s involvement.
“A lot of people should be investigated, because it is a concrete fact that there was an attempted coup, there was a policy of disrespecting democracy, there was an attempt to destroy something we built so many years ago, which is the democratic process,” Lula said.
Last month, federal police searched properties associated with Bolsonaro’s son Carlos, a Rio de Janeiro city councilman, and with the former chief of Brazil’s intelligence agency under Bolsonaro, Alexandre Ramagem.
Police said those operations were part of an investigation into the nation’s intelligence agency and alleged spying on political opponents during Bolsonaro’s term, which ended in December 2022. Bolsonaro was with his son when his home and office were raided last week but wasn’t forced to forfeit his phone or any other belongings.
Previously issued police statements and Supreme Court documents showed police were investigating an “organized crime” group that operated within the intelligence agency during Bolsonaro’s administration and that allegedly used the agency’s tools and services for political use and personal gain.
Police claimed they identified a group that allegedly included Carlos Bolsonaro, which “monitored ‘political enemies’,” according to Supreme Court documents. The group was also suspected of seeking to interfere with ongoing police investigations, some of which targeted or involved two other sons of Bolsonaro, Jair Renan and Flávio Bolsonaro, a sitting senator.
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