The dizzying array of legal threats to Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro has been a target for investigations since his early days in office, and the swarm of cases have multiplied since his failed reelection campaign in 2022.

Authorities have been looking into everything from allegations he conspired to incite an uprising aimed at ousting his successor, to questions about whether the far-right leader, sitting astride a jet-ski, harassed a humpback whale.

Police scrapped their investigation about the marine mammal, but already an electoral court ruled Bolsonaro ineligible for years. Other probes still loom large; there are dozens of them that could produce criminal charges at low-level courts, which would afford him the right to appeal any eventual conviction. And the country’s Supreme Court will have the final say regarding more than five in-depth investigations that could land the former president behind bars, under house arrest or cut off from all political activity.

Bolsonaro has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases, and his allies have alleged political persecution, while recognizing the severity of the legal risks on multiple fronts.

Here’s a look at the biggest threats and where they stand.

Vaccination Fraud

Bolsonaro has been indicted for directing an official to tamper with a public health database to make it appear as though he and his 12-year-old daughter had received the COVID-19 vaccine in order to bypass U.S. entry requirements. During the pandemic, he railed against the vaccine, characterized the choice to receive a shot as a matter of personal freedom and has repeatedly said he never did so.

The Federal Police accused Bolsonaro of criminal association and inserting false data into public records, which carry maximum penalties of 4 and 12 years jailtime, respectively. It was his first indictment since leaving office.

STATUS: Brazil’s Supreme Court sent the indictment to the prosecutor-general, who is weighing whether to use it to press charges. Local media reported that he was seeking to consult American authorities about whether Bolsonaro used the forged document to enter the country, and that having done so could result in U.S. legal action.

Saudi Jewels

Federal Police have probed whether Bolsonaro directed officials to smuggle luxury jewelry worth millions into Brazil from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, then acted to prevent them from being incorporated into the presidential collection and instead retain ownership for himself.

Investigators summoned Bolsonaro for questioning in April and August of 2023. He has returned the jewelry in question.

STATUS: The Federal Police indicted Bolsonaro for money laundering and criminal association, according to a source with knowledge of the accusations. A second source confirmed the indictment, although not for which specific crimes. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Capital Uprising

Federal police are investigating Bolsonaro’s role in a conspiracy to keep him in office after losing his reelection bid to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, including whether he incited the Jan. 8, 2022 riot that ransacked the Supreme Court and presidential palace in the capital of Brasilia. The Supreme Court on March 18 unsealed testimonies from army and air force commanders who had served under Bolsonaro, and both said he actively participated in the plot.

STATUS: The investigation is ongoing, with several Bolsonaro supporters and allies already convicted and jailed.

Electoral Misdeeds

Brazil’s highest electoral court in June ruled that Bolsonaro used government communication channels in a meeting with diplomats to promote his reelection bid and sow distrust about the vote. The case focused on a meeting the prior year, during which Bolsonaro used government staffers, the state television channel and the presidential palace in Brasilia to tell foreign ambassadors that the country’s electronic voting system was rigged. The ruling rendered him ineligible for office until 2030.

The court also found that Bolsonaro abused his power during Brazil’s Independence Day festivities, a month before the election. The ruling didn’t add years to Bolsonaro’s ineligibility, but made any appeal less likely to succeed. A third case is also pending at the court.

STATUS: Bolsonaro’s appeal of the initial ruling was denied.

Pandemic Sabotage

Brazil’s Federal Police is investigating Bolsonaro for inciting crimes against public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, which include encouraging people not to wear masks and causing alarm about non-existent danger of vaccines accelerating development of AIDS. A Senate inquiry commission also spent months investigating his pandemic-era actions and decisions, and recommended nine criminal charges.

Brazil’s former prosecutor-general Augusto Aras, widely seen as a Bolsonaro ally, decided not to file any charges based on the lawmakers’ findings. They have urged his Aras’ successor to reopen the case.

STATUS: The investigation is ongoing.

Fake News, Digital Militia

Brazil’s Supreme Court in 2020 ordered an investigation into a network allegedly spreading defamatory fake news and threats against Supreme Court justices. The probe has yielded the imprisonment of lawmakers from the former president’s circle and raids of his supporters’ homes. In 2021, Bolsonaro was included as a target.

As an offshoot of that probe, the Federal Police is also investigating whether a group operating inside Bolsonaro’s presidential palace produced social media content aimed at undermining the rule of law. The group, allegedly comprised of aides and Bolsonaro’s politician son, has been widely referred to as a digital militia and “the hate cabinet.”

STATUS: Both investigations are ongoing.


Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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