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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bolsonaro and allies planned a coup, Brazil police say

Then-President Jair Bolsonaro campaigns for a second term in São Paulo, Brazil, on Sept. 24, 2022. Brazilian federal police raided the former president and his top allies on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, on accusations that they attempted to overturn the results of the 2022 election. (Victor Moriyama/The New York Times)

By Jack Nicas

Former President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil oversaw a broad conspiracy to hold on to power regardless of the results of the 2022 election, including personally editing a proposed order to arrest a Supreme Court justice, according to accusations unveiled Thursday by the Brazilian federal police.

Bolsonaro and dozens of top aides, ministers and military leaders worked together to undermine the Brazilian public’s faith in the election and set the stage for a potential coup, federal police said.

Their efforts included spreading disinformation about voter fraud, drafting legal arguments for new elections, recruiting military personnel to support a coup, surveilling judges and encouraging and guiding protesters who eventually raided government buildings, police said.

The explosive allegations were contained in a 134-page court order that authorized a sweeping federal police operation Thursday that targeted Bolsonaro and about two dozen of his political allies, including Brazil’s former defense minister, former national security adviser, former justice minister and former head of the navy.

The operation involved search warrants and arrest warrants for four people, including two army officers and two of Bolsonaro’s former top aides.

Bolsonaro was ordered to hand over his passport, to remain in the country and to have no contact with any other people under investigation.

Bolsonaro said Thursday that he was the innocent victim of a politically motivated operation.

“I left the government more than a year ago, and I continue to suffer relentless persecution,” the former president told Folha de São Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper. “Forget about me. There is already someone else running the country.”

For more than a year before Brazil’s 2022 election, Bolsonaro openly sowed doubts about the security of his nation’s election systems and warned that if he lost it would be the result of fraud.

When he, in fact, lost to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro declined to unequivocally concede, and his supporters staged monthslong protests that culminated in a January 2023 riot at Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices.

Bolsonaro has already been ruled ineligible to run for office until 2030 over his attempts to undermine the voting systems. Now he could be facing arrest and criminal prosecution.

Lula said in a radio interview Thursday that he hoped the investigation into Bolsonaro would be fair and impartial. “What I want is for Bolsonaro to have the presumption of innocence, which I didn’t have,” he said.

Lula served 580 days in prison on corruption charges that were later annulled after Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that the judge in his cases had been biased.

The accusations unveiled Thursday lay out how the former president and his allies tried to subvert Brazil’s young democracy, including alarming details for a country that was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

In one moment in November 2022, after Bolsonaro lost the election but was still president, Filipe Martins, a top aide, brought him a draft of a legal document claiming that Brazil’s Supreme Court had illegally interfered in the executive branch’s affairs, according to federal police. The document ordered the arrest of two Supreme Court justices and the Senate president and called for new elections, police said.

Bolsonaro ordered changes to the document so that it called for the arrest of only one of the Supreme Court justices, police said. Once the document was updated, Bolsonaro called top military leaders to the presidential residence to present them with the document and push for a coup, police said. The result of that meeting was unclear.

The Supreme Court justice who would have been arrested under that order was Alexandre de Moraes, the same judge who has overseen investigations into Bolsonaro and his allies for years, making him one of the former president’s archrivals.

Moraes issued the court order authorizing the arrests and police actions Thursday. The order revealed that the federal police also discovered evidence that two of Bolsonaro’s aides had monitored the travel of Moraes in case the government attempted to arrest him.

In the court order unsealed Thursday, Moraes said that the aides’ precision in knowing his schedule suggested they may have been using technology to surveil him.

Federal police have separately accused Bolsonaro’s son and the former chief of Brazil’s intelligence agency of using Israeli spyware, among other tools, to surveil political enemies of the former president, including Moraes.

The court order unsealed Thursday also details a meeting in July 2022, three months before the election, in which Bolsonaro ordered top government officials and military leaders to spread claims of voter fraud, despite a lack of evidence. “From now on, I want every minister to say what I’m going to say here,” Bolsonaro said at the meeting, according to a recording obtained by police.

Transcripts of the recording in court documents revealed that the former president appeared to believe, or at least continued to peddle, several conspiracy theories claiming his rivals were rigging the election.

He falsely claimed that electronic voting systems had been pre-loaded with results and that electoral judges had received tens of millions of dollars in bribes.

“I have no proof, man. But something strange is happening,” Bolsonaro said, according to police. “Losing an election is no problem. What we can’t do is lose democracy in a rigged election.”

In another moment, he asked his ministers and military leaders to sign a public letter that Brazil’s election system could not be trusted. (Such a letter was never released.)

Several government ministers and military leaders at the meeting, however, agreed with Bolsonaro’s view of the election system.

Anderson Torres, Bolsonaro’s former justice minister, urged others at the meeting to act, saying they faced consequences if Lula became president. “I want everyone to think about what they can do beforehand because everyone will get screwed,” he said, according to police.

Paulo Sérgio Nogueira, Bolsonaro’s former defense minister and army commander, said that he saw Brazil’s election officials as “the enemy” and that military leaders were meeting weekly to ensure clean elections.

“May we succeed in reelecting you,” he told Bolsonaro, according to police. “That is all our wish.”

But there were also internal signs of doubt among Bolsonaro’s allies. Two days after the first round of Brazil’s election, which sent Bolsonaro and Lula to a runoff, an army officer sent a text message to Bolsonaro’s personal aide, Mauro Cid, saying that he hoped Bolsonaro’s team “knew what they were doing.”

“Me too,” replied Cid, who was instrumental in planning a coup, according to police. “If not, I’ll be arrested.”

Cid was arrested shortly after Lula’s election and accused of helping to falsify Bolsonaro’s vaccine records. He signed a plea deal to cooperate with authorities.

The army officer then asked if Bolsonaro’s team had found evidence of voter fraud.

“Nothing,” Cid replied, according to police. “No evidence of fraud.”

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