Brazil prosecutors request probe into Bolsonaro’s role in inciting capital riot

Prosecutor-general’s office asks Supreme Court to include ex-president in investigation of January 8 attack on Supreme Court, Congress, presidential palace in bid to overturn vote

Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the Supreme Court building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, January 8, 2023. (AP/Eraldo Peres)
Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the Supreme Court building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, January 8, 2023. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Brazilian prosecutor-general’s office on Friday asked the Supreme Court to include former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in its investigation into who incited the January 8 riot in the nation’s capital.

As the basis for their request, prosecutors in the recently formed group to combat anti-democratic acts cited a video Bolsonaro posted on Facebook two days after the riot, according to a statement. The video claimed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wasn’t voted into office, but rather was chosen by the Supreme Court and Brazil’s electoral authority.

Otherwise, Bolsonaro has refrained from commenting on the election since his October 30 defeat. He repeatedly stoked doubt about the reliability of the nation’s electronic voting system in the run-up to the vote, filed a request afterward to annul millions of ballots cast using the machines and never conceded.

Prosecutors argued that, although Bolsonaro posted the video after the riot, its content was sufficient to justify investigating his conduct beforehand. Bolsonaro deleted it the morning after he first posted it.

Authorities are investigating who enabled Bolsonaro’s radical supporters to storm the Supreme Court, Congress and presidential palace in an attempt to overturn the results of the October election. Targets include those who paid to transport rioters to the capital and local security personnel who may have stood aside to let the mayhem occur.

Much of the attention thus far has focused on Anderson Torres, Bolsonaro’s former justice minister, who became the federal district’s security chief on January 2, and was in the US on the day of the riot.

File: Brazilian Justice Minister Anderson Torres gives a press conference on the operation coined Operation Elections at the Command and Security Center of the Justice Ministry ahead of general elections in Brasilia, Brazil, October 1, 2022. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

The Supreme Court’s Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered Torres’ arrest this week and has opened an investigation into his actions, which he characterized as “neglect and collusion.” In his decision, which was made public Friday, de Moraes said that Torres fired subordinates and left the country before the riot, an indication that he was deliberately laying the groundwork for the unrest.

The court also issued an arrest warrant for the former security chief, and he must return within three days or Brazil will request his extradition, Justice Minister Flávio Dino said Friday.

“If by next week his appearance hasn’t been confirmed, of course we will use mechanisms of international legal cooperation. We will trigger procedures next week to carry out his extradition,” Dino said.

Torres has denied wrongdoing and said January 10 on Twitter that he would interrupt his vacation to return to Brazil and present his defense. Three days later, that has yet to occur.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives to speak from his official residence of Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, November 1, 2022, the leader’s first public comments since losing the October 30 presidential runoff. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

The minister pointed to a document that Brazilian federal police found upon searching Torres’ home; a draft decree that would have seized control of Brazil’s electoral authority and potentially overturned the election. The origin and authenticity of the unsigned document are unclear, and it remains unknown if Bolsonaro or his subordinates took any steps to implement the measure that would have been unconstitutional, according to analysts and the Brazilian academy of electoral and political law.

But the document “will figure in the police investigation, because it even more fully reveals the existence of a chain of people responsible for the criminal events,” Dino said, adding that Torres will need to inform police who drafted it.

Supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro break a window as they invade Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia on January 8, 2023. (Sergio Lima/AFP)

By failing to initiate a probe against the document’s author or report its existence, Torres could be charged with dereliction of duty, said Mario Sérgio Lima, a political analyst at Medley Advisors.

Torres said on Twitter that the document was probably found in a pile along with others intended for shredding, and that it was leaked out of context to feed false narratives aimed at discrediting him.

Dino told reporters that no connection has yet been established between the capital riot and Bolsonaro, who has been in Florida since late December.

The federal district’s former governor and former military police chief are also targets of the Supreme Court investigation made public Friday.

Both were removed from their positions after the riot.

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