Brazilian court denies Bolsonaro’s bid to visit Israel at Netanyahu’s invitation

After suspicious stay at Hungarian embassy while under investigation for election sabotage, far-right ex-president asked passport be restored; ‘Absolutely premature,’ says judge

File - Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters while waving an Israeli flag during a rally in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 25, 2024. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)
File - Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters while waving an Israeli flag during a rally in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 25, 2024. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s Supreme Court denied a request by former president Jair Bolsonaro’s lawyers that his passport be returned to him so that he can travel to Israel, according to an official document released on Friday.

Bolsonaro’s lawyers said in a statement on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had invited Bolsonaro to an event in May, and requested the Supreme Court to restore his passport.

“It is absolutely premature to remove the restriction imposed on the investigated person,” Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes wrote in his decision, which was in line with a recommendation from the prosecutor general’s office cited by Moraes.

Bolsonaro’s passport was taken, precisely, to prevent him from leaving the country, given “the danger to the development of criminal investigations and the possible application of criminal law,” the prosecutor general’s office said earlier in its opinion.

Federal Police seized Bolsonaro’s passport in February during a raid related to an investigation into whether he and top aides plotted to ignore the 2022 election results and stage an uprising to keep the defeated leader in power. Bolsonaro lost the election to his rival, veteran leftist politician Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The attorneys submitted Bolsonaro’s request to the Supreme Court on Monday, the same day The New York Times published security camera footage revealing that the former president spent two nights at Hungary’s embassy in Brasilia, just days after the far-right leader lost his passport.

Brazilian ex-president Jair Bolsonaro (center) with a security guard at the Hungarian embassy in Brasilia, Brazil, February 13, 2024, as seen in footage from the embassy’s security cameras, published by the New York Times. (Screen capture: New York Times, used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The revelation of Bolsonaro’s stay sparked widespread speculation he may have been attempting to evade arrest, as agents would not have jurisdiction to enter embassy grounds due to diplomatic conventions restricting access.

Bolsonaro’s lawyers denied that was his intent, saying in a separate statement it was “illogical” to think he was seeking asylum or avoiding authorities. The stay formed part of his political agenda with the Hungarian government, with whom he has “well-known alignment,” the statement said.

In his petition to the Supreme Court for authorization to travel to Israel from May 12 to 18, Bolsonaro’s lawyers had said the proposed trip wouldn’t jeopardize the ongoing legal processes he faces, as he had scheduled appointments after the planned date of return.

The request didn’t specify which event Bolsonaro had hoped to attend, but the proposed period coincided with Israel’s Independence Day.

Then-Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touch the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 1, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/Pool/AFP)

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Israel’s Netanyahu are key international allies of Bolsonaro.

By contrast, Netanyahu in particular has had frosty relations with Bolsonaro’s successor Lula, who has compared the war led by Netanyahu’s government in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust. Netanyahu said Lula’s comments “trivialized the Holocaust” and “crossed a red line.”

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