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Brazil's Supreme Court agrees to investigate former President Jair Bolsonaro for riot

Brazil's former president, Jair Bolsonaro, looks on after speaking from his official residence at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Nov. 1, 2022.
Eraldo Peres
/
AP
Brazil's former president, Jair Bolsonaro, looks on after speaking from his official residence at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Nov. 1, 2022.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's Supreme Court has agreed to investigate whether former president Jair Bolsonaro incited the far-right mob that ransacked the country's Congress, top court and presidential offices, a swift escalation in the probe that shows the ex-leader could face legal consequences for an extremist movement he helped build.

Justice Alexandre de Moraes granted a request from the prosecutor general's office to include Bolsonaro in the wider investigation, citing a video the former president posted on Facebook two days after the riot. It claimed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wasn't voted into office, but rather was chosen by the Supreme Court and Brazil's electoral authority.

Although Bolsonaro posted the video after the riot and deleted it in the morning, prosecutors argued its content was sufficient to justify investigating his conduct beforehand.

Otherwise, Bolsonaro has refrained from commenting on the election since his Oct. 30 defeat. He repeatedly stoked doubt about the reliability of the electronic voting system in the run-up to the vote, filed a request afterward to annul millions of ballots cast using the machines and never conceded.

None of the ex-president's claims were proved, and the results of the election were recognized as legal by different politicians, including some Bolsonaro allies, and several foreign government.

He has taken up residence in an Orlando suburb since leaving Brazil in late December and skipping the Jan. 1 swearing-in of his leftist successor, and some Democratic lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden to cancel his visa.

Following the justice's decision late Friday, Bolsonaro's lawyer Frederick Wassef said in a statement that the former president "vehemently repudiates the acts of vandalism and destruction" from Jan. 8, but blamed supposed "infiltrators" of the protest — something his far-right backers have also claimed.

The statement also said Bolsonaro "never had any relationship or participation with these spontaneous social movements."

Brazilian authorities are investigating who enabled Bolsonaro's radical supporters to storm the seats of power in an attempt to overturn results of the October election. Targets include those who summoned rioters to the capital or paid to transport them, and local security personnel who may have stood aside to let the mayhem occur.

Much of the attention thus far has focused on Anderson Torres, Bolsonaro's former justice minister, 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 ordered Torres' arrest this week and has opened an investigation into his actions, which he characterized as "neglect and collusion." In his decision, which was made public Friday, de Moraes said that Torres fired subordinates and left the country before the riot, an indication that he was deliberately laying the groundwork for the unrest.

The court also issued an arrest warrant for the former security chief, and he must return within three days or Brazil will request his extradition, Justice Minister Flávio Dino said Friday.

Torres has denied wrongdoing, and said Jan. 10 on Twitter that he would interrupt his vacation to return to Brazil and present his defense. Three days later, that has yet to occur.

The minister pointed to a document that Brazilian federal police found upon searching Torres' home; a draft decree that would have seized control of Brazil's electoral authority and potentially overturned the election. The origin and authenticity of the unsigned document are unclear, and it remains unknown if Bolsonaro or his subordinates took any steps to implement the measure that would have been unconstitutional, according to analysts and the Brazilian academy of electoral and political law.

But the document "will figure in the police investigation, because it even more fully reveals the existence of a chain of people responsible for the criminal events," Dino said, adding that Torres will need to inform police who drafted it.

By failing to initiate a probe against the document's author or report its existence, Torres at very could be charged with dereliction of duty, said Mario Sérgio Lima, a political analyst at Medley Advisors.

Torres said on Twitter that the document was probably found in a pile along with others intended for shredding, and that it was leaked out of context feed false narratives aimed at discrediting him.

Dino told reporters Friday morning that no connection has yet been established between the capital riot and Bolsonaro.

Also on Friday night, the popular social media accounts of several prominent right-wing figures were suspended in Brazil in response to a court order, which journalist Glenn Greenwald obtained and detailed on a live social media broadcast.

The order, also issued by Justice de Moraes, was directed at six social media platforms and established a two-hour deadline to block the accounts or face fines. The accounts belong to a digital influencer, a YouTuber recently elected federal lawmaker, a podcast host in the mold of Joe Rogan, and an evangelical pastor and senator-elect, among others.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press