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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Brazil Police Raid Ex-President Bolsonaro's Home, Seize Phone

Brazil Police Raid Ex-President Bolsonaro's Home, Seize Phone

Jair Bolsonaro, who faced widespread criticism as president for his unorthodox handling of the pandemic, denied the allegations, accusing the authorities of trying to fabricate a case against him.
Police in Brazil searched ex-president Jair Bolsonaro's home and seized his cell phone Wednesday, investigating allegations the far-right vaccine skeptic and his inner circle falsified Covid-19 vaccination certificates to dodge health restrictions.

Bolsonaro, who faced widespread criticism as president for his unorthodox handling of the pandemic, denied the allegations, accusing the authorities of trying to fabricate a case against him.

"There was no falsification on my part. None," he told journalists outside his home in Brasilia after the early-morning raid.

"I haven't been vaccinated, period," he said.

"I'm surprised... by the search and seizure operation in an ex-president's home, trying to fabricate a case."

The raid came after federal police said they had uncovered a scheme in which a top Bolsonaro aide, army colonel Mauro Cid, allegedly tapped a network of contacts in the health system and government to obtain fraudulent vaccination certificates for Bolsonaro, the president's daughter, himself, his wife and daughters, and two other presidential aides.

Police said in a brief to the Supreme Court that there was evidence Bolsonaro was "fully aware" of the fraudulent entries in the health ministry's electronic vaccination records system, which they said aimed to enable his anti-vaccine inner circle to dodge international travel requirements and other pandemic restrictions.

'Robust' case

The raid was ordered by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who ruled there was "plausible, logical and robust" evidence suggesting Bolsonaro may have been personally involved.

Police carried out 16 search and seizure orders and executed six arrest warrants as part of the operation, detaining Cid and former presidential aides Max Guilherme Machado de Moura and Sergio Rocha Cordeiro.

Bolsonaro, 68, said police had also seized his cell phone and a handgun.

The ex-army captain, who led Brazil from 2019 to 2022, defied expert advice on managing Covid-19, which has claimed more than 700,000 lives in Brazil.

As president, he touted the medication hydroxychloroquine against the disease, despite studies finding it ineffective, and joked the vaccine could "turn you into an alligator."

Latest legal battle

The raid is the latest legal battle for Bolsonaro, who faces a string of investigations by the Supreme Court and electoral authorities.

It also cast a new spotlight on his decision to leave Brazil for the United States on the second-to-last day of his presidency, snubbing the inauguration of his leftist successor and arch-rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro left for the United States on December 30, after losing a bitterly divisive election to Lula.

The US requires international air travelers to present proof of vaccination against Covid-19, a requirement the White House announced Monday would end on May 11.

The requirement does not apply to foreign government officials, and Bolsonaro said he had not been asked to present proof of vaccination on arrival.

But Bolsonaro's status as a government official expired when his term ended on December 31.

He then applied for a visa to remain in the US as a private citizen.

It is unclear whether the vaccination requirement applied to him at that point. A US State Department spokesman told reporters that individual visa records are confidential.

Bolsonaro, a close ally of US ex-president Donald Trump, stayed in Orlando, Florida, for three months after his presidency.

He returned to Brazil on March 30, vowing to fight Lula's government.

But he risks being ensnared by numerous investigations, and has already faced questioning by federal police in two cases since his return.

One was over accusations of inciting riots inside the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court on January 8 by supporters refusing to accept his election loss.

The other was over accusations he tried to illegally keep millions of dollars' worth of diamond jewelry received as a gift from Saudi Arabia during his presidency.

Bolsonaro faces a total of four Supreme Court investigations that could send him to prison, and 16 cases before Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

The TSE, which is notably investigating Bolsonaro's unproven claims of fraud in the country's voting system, could strip him of his right to run for office for eight years, taking him out of the 2026 presidential race.
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