Jair Bolsonaro faces inquiry into claims of meddling with police

By Tom Phillips

The political whirlwind convulsing Brazilian politics has intensified with the supreme court approving an investigation into explosive allegations that the president, Jair Bolsonaro, illegally attempted to interfere in the federal police.

“The president of the republic … is also subject to the laws, just like any other of the country’s citizens,” the supreme court judge Celso de Mello noted in his decision on Monday night.

“No one, absolutely no one, is entitled to infringe and show contempt for our country’s laws and constitution.”

In a separate blow, a judge gave the federal government 48 hours to hand over the results of two Covid-19 tests Bolsonaro took last month but has refused to publish.

More than 20 members of a delegation Bolsonaro took to meet Donald Trump in early March were infected, fuelling suspicions that Brazil’s president – whose handling of the coronavirus crisis has been widely criticised – had also been contaminated.

Claims that Bolsonaro had improperly tried to meddle in the police were made last Friday by Sérgio Moro, the outgoing justice minister.

As he resigned from Bolsonaro’s cabinet, Moro issued a potentially devastating parting shot: publicly accusing his former boss of wanting to replace the head of the federal police with someone more amenable to discussing police business and sharing intelligence reports with the president.

“I said this would be political interference and he said it would indeed be,” claimed Moro, a former judge who many suspect harbours presidential ambitions of his own.

Two prominent Brazilian newspapers, the Folha de São Paulo and Correio Braziliense, have claimed Bolsonaro’s desire to remove the federal police director was driven by the knowledge that investigators examining the criminal dissemination of fake news were closing in on his son Carlos Bolsonaro.

Federal police investigators in Rio de Janeiro are also investigating another of the president’s sons, Flávio Bolsonaro, for suspected corruption and ties to Rio’s mafia.

The far-right president and his sons deny the accusations against them.

On Tuesday, Estado de São Paulo claimed Moro would hand audio recordings to investigators as part of the inquiry into the president’s behaviour.

The possible crimes for which Bolsonaro will be investigated reportedly include fraudulent misrepresentation, obstruction of justice and passive corruption. Moro will be investigated for so-called “crimes against honour and reputation”, which include calumny and defamation.

Bolsonaro’s opponents – who decry his assaults on the environment, the arts and Brazil’s democracy – hope the investigation could eventually provide grounds for his impeachment. A poll on Monday suggested nearly half of Brazilians wanted Bolsonaro to resign – up from 37% last month.

However, the poll also showed Bolsonaro continuing to enjoy the support of 33% of voters – a reality that suggests impeachment is unlikely in the short term.

“He has already committed numerous crimes of responsibility – but for impeachment you need votes,” admitted Marcelo Freixo, a leftwing congressman from the Socialism and Liberty party.

“The whole of the left in parliament has 134 representatives. Bolsonaro has 210 on his side,” Freixo added. “I favour impeachment but being in favour of impeachment isn’t enough. You need the votes.”

Kim Kataguiri, a rightwing congressman who has been pushing for the release of Bolsonaro’s coronavirus test results, said the Brazilian people had a right to the truth. “This is a matter of public interest and must not be hidden … We need clarity,” said Kataguiri, who supported Bolsonaro before his 2018 election but has since turned on the president.