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‘A Family Business:’ Graft Investigation Threatens Brazil’s Bolsonaro



‘A Family Business:’ Graft Investigation Threatens Brazil’s Bolsonaro

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, was visiting a cathedral within the capital in current days when a reporter threw out a query: President, why did your spouse obtain $16,000 from a former aide below investigation for corruption?

The response was aggressive, even for a president recognized for venting his anger at journalists and critics.

“What I’d love to do,” Mr. Bolsonaro instructed the reporter, “is smash your mouth in.”


In his two years in workplace, as Mr. Bolsonaro and his interior circle, together with his sons, have turn out to be engulfed in a rising variety of legal and legislative investigations, he has lashed out at reporters, investigators and even members of his personal cupboard who’ve dared go in opposition to him.

However the case involving the previous aide and household confidant — which revolves across the potential theft of public sector wages — has notably rattled Mr. Bolsonaro’s nerves by placing his spouse and his oldest son on the heart of a corruption investigation that has developed into certainly one of his greatest private and political liabilities.

The increasing set of inquiries into the president and his household are testing the independence and power of the justice system in one of many world’s largest democracies, with the most important financial system within the southern hemisphere. Only a few years in the past, Brazil’s judiciary earned world accolades for taking down highly effective officers and enterprise titans in an anti-corruption crusade that upended the political establishment.


Now Mr. Bolsonaro, whose astonishing rise from the fringes of far-right politics to the presidency was largely propelled by a promise to root out graft and crime, stands accused of undermining the rule of law, as the scandals inch ever closer to the presidential palace.

Experts say the evidence that has come to light so far in the case of the former aide, Fabrício Queiroz, suggests the Bolsonaro family partook in a scheme known as rachadinha, which is common in the lower rungs of politics in Brazil. It involves siphoning off taxpayer money by keeping ghost employees on payroll or hiring people who agree to kick back a share of their salary to the boss.

“The suspicion is that this was a family business that lasted many years and moved a lot of money,” Bruno Brandão, the executive director of Transparency International in Brazil, said of the graft scheme involving the former aide. “These suppositions are very serious, corroborated by solid evidence, in an investigation that is based on highly irregular financial transactions.”


In court filings and leaks to the press, the authorities have outlined their suspicion that starting in 2007, Mr. Queiroz helped the president’s oldest son, Flávio Bolsonaro, steal public funds by pocketing part of the wages of people on his payroll when he was a state representative. Flávio Bolsonaro was elected to the Senate in 2018.

Between 2011 and 2016, Mr. Queiroz funneled thousands of dollars to the president’s wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, in transactions neither of them can explain. Prosecutors also believe deposits made to the president’s son might be connected to the scheme.

Drawing on a vast dossier of financial records, investigators are trying to determine whether the irregular cash flow at a chocolate shop Flávio Bolsonaro bought in 2015, and a series of real estate purchases he made in cash, amount to money laundering.


Separately, a Brazilian newspaper uncovered that one of Mr. Queiroz’s daughters, Nathália Queiroz, was on the payroll of the president’s former congressional workplace in Brasília between 2016 and 2018, though she was working as a private coach in Rio de Janeiro on the time.

Financial institution data obtained by prosecutors present that Ms. Queiroz made month-to-month funds to her father that totaled tens of hundreds of {dollars} between 2017 and 2018.

The president’s workplace declined to touch upon the case on behalf of Mr. Bolsonaro and his spouse. Michelle Bolsonaro met her husband in 2006 whereas she was working as a secretary in Congress. After the 2 started relationship, she joined his legislative employees, a transfer that tripled hersalary.


Paulo Emílio Catta Preta, a lawyer representing Mr. Queiroz, stated the transactions involving the Bolsonaro household “have completely nothing to do with alleged misappropriation of funds.” Flávio Bolsonaro’s lawyer didn’t reply to a request for interviews.

In a current interview, Vice President Hamilton Mourão defended the administration’s report on corruption, noting that it has not been embroiled in the kind of multimillion greenback kickbacks schemes uncovered throughout earlier governments. He deplored the leaking to the press of a lot details about the Queiroz investigation, arguing that there’s an effort underway to “fabricate a story for public opinion.”

That started taking form shortly after Mr. Bolsonaro’s decisive electoral victory in October 2018. He beat a leftist occasion whose huge recognition crumbled as its leaders had been charged in kickback schemes involving massive authorities contracts and transnational enterprise offers.


Shortly after the election, prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro famous that Mr. Queiroz’s financial institution exercise in 2016 and 2017, whereas he was on Flávio Bolsonaro’s payroll, was incompatible together with his reported earnings.

Since then, different legislative and legal investigations have put the Bolsonaro household on the defensive.

One other of the president’s sons, Carlos Bolsonaro, is being investigated on similar charges of diverting public funds throughout his time as a Metropolis Council member in Rio de Janeiro, and in reference to a case about disinformation campaigns waged on-line. A 3rd son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, can be concerned within the disinformation case.


As legal and legislative investigations entangled folks near the president, his authorities led or backed efforts which have weakened the hand of anticorruption prosecutors. They included making it more durable for investigators to acquire financial institution data to construct legal instances. A brand new regulation topics prosecutors to punishments together with fines and legal costs for misconduct.

These actions contributed to the dramatic exit of Mr. Bolsonaro’s hottest cupboard member, Sergio Moro, who in April accused the president of in search of to interchange the pinnacle of the federal police as a way to defend buddies and family from legal investigations.

The Supreme Court docket is investigating whether or not the president’s conduct amounted to obstruction of justice.


The occasions surrounding the exit of Mr. Moro, a former federal choose who had turn out to be essentially the most emblematic determine within the anticorruption campaign that started in 2014, are extensively seen as a de facto abandonment of the president’s promise to battle corruption. A invoice with sweeping anticorruption reforms Mr. Moro championed has been deserted.

The shift in nationwide focus has allowed the restoration of an unstated system wherein highly effective judges and politicians shield one another’s pursuits, stated Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima, a former prosecutor who labored on politically explosive investigations.

“It’s a return to the previous political follow of being shielded by judicial maneuvers,” he stated. “In Brazil now we have a republic of untouchables and a republic for the remainder of the inhabitants.”

Towards that backdrop, prosecutors within the case have discovered methods to maintain the investigation within the public eye — at the same time as Mr. Queiroz sought to stay out of sight and the Bolsonaro household downplayed his significance.


In June, investigators armed with an arrest warrant for Mr. Queiroz discovered him in a São Paulo residence that belongs to certainly one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s attorneys, Frederick Wassef.

The arrest, which dominated entrance pages and information broadcasts for days, was adopted by leaks to the press that Mr. Queiroz had wired Michelle Bolsonaro far extra money than investigators had initially disclosed. That known as into query the president’s account {that a} single fee disclosed in 2018 was made to repay a debt.

After Mr. Bolsonaro lashed out on the reporter with O Globo newspaper on Sunday, hundreds of Brazilians who’re important of the president turned to social media to echo his query: “President, why did your spouse obtain $16,000 from Fabricio Queiroz?”


The stakes are excessive for the primary woman. In contrast to her husband and Flávio Bolsonaro, she shouldn’t be an elected official, which deprives her of the protections from prosecution that they take pleasure in.

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