SAO PAULO — Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gave testimony at the Federal Police headquarters Wednesday about his actions related to the Jan. 8 attacks on government buildings in the capital, Brasilia.
One week after his leftist successor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office, Bolsonaro’s supporters raided and trashed the buildings of the Supreme Court, Congress and the presidential palace. Hundreds of them are expected to stand trial.
Brazil’s prosecutor-general. Augusto Aras, said earlier this month that Bolsonaro “allegedly encouraged the perpetration of crimes” against the rule of law. The former president had left the country after his defeat and was staying in Orlando, Florida during the attacks, and has denied any involvement in them.
Bolsonaro had never openly conceded defeat in the closest presidential race since Brazil’s return to democracy over three decades ago. He also repeatedly made unfounded claims that sowed doubt about the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting system. Many of his die-hard supporters still believe the election was fraudulent, though there is no evidence.
His sworn deposition Wednesday lasted some two hours and is a step forward in just one of the investigations targeting the far-right leader that could render him ineligible for upcoming races or result in jail time. Bolsonaro admitted March 15 that his ineligibility is possible, but said prison could only result from an “arbitrary” ruling. The former president has denied any wrongdoing in the cases.
Upon leaving the police building, Bolsonaro stepped out of his vehicle and offered a smile and thumbs-up to reporters, but referred questions to his lawyers.
“I miss you, OK?” he said. “Hugs to everyone.”
Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes granted a request from the prosecutor-general’s office to investigate Bolsonaro’s role, citing a video the former president posted on Facebook two days after the riot. It claimed Lula wasn’t voted into office, but rather was chosen by the Supreme Court and the electoral body, which Justice de Moraes also oversees.
Although Bolsonaro posted the video after the riot and deleted it hours later, prosecutors argued its content was sufficient to justify investigating his conduct beforehand. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday outside the police building, Bolsonaro’s former communications chief Fábio Wajngarten said the former president posted it accidentally while medicated, and deleted it once he realized.
While Bolsonaro can be viewed as a sort of “intellectual mentor” of what happened, given that the rioters were his supporters, holding him legally accountable would be challenging, said Mario Sergio Lima, a senior political analyst for Brazil at Medley Global Advisors.
“Unless you find some kind of WhatsApp audio with some direct order, or maybe if (Bolsonaro’s former Justice Minister) Anderson Torres says something, which doesn’t seem very likely,” Lima said.
Much of the attention thus far has focused on Torres, who became the federal district’s security chief on Jan. 2, and was in the U.S. on the day of the riot. De Moraes has opened an investigation into Torres, noting that he fired subordinates before leaving the country, and saying that is an indication that he was deliberately laying the groundwork for the unrest. Torres is currently in jail.
The former president is expected to give testimony for several other cases regarding actions during his presidency. Earlier this month, the Federal Police questioned him about three sets of diamond jewlery he received from Saudi Arabia. He denies any wrongdoing in that case, too.
AP reporter Mauricio Savarese contributed from Sao Paulo.