Bolsonaro Targeted as Police Ensnares Alleged Coup Plotters

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(Bloomberg) -- Police launched a sweeping operation that ensnared former President Jair Bolsonaro and dozens of his allies who allegedly tried to overturn the result of Brazil’s 2022 election following his defeat.

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The operation was authorized by the top court and carried out by the federal police. In a statement describing their actions on Thursday, the police said a “criminal organization” had tried to plot a “coup d’état, with the support of military personnel.”

To comply with court orders, Bolsonaro will surrender his passport to authorities and refrain from making contact with those who are under investigation, his spokesman Fabio Wajngarten said in a statement published on social media.

Later on the day, Bolsonaro’s lawyers published a statement saying the former president is outraged by operation and describing the seizure of his passport as “absolutely unnecessary.”

The operation marked a significant escalation in government efforts to crack down on the perpetrators of last year’s Jan. 8 riots, when Bolsonaro supporters tore through the capital, Brasilia, alleging that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had stolen the vote. The conservative leader denies any involvement in the violence, but authorities have closed in on Bolsonaro and members of his inner circle since he left office.

Read More: Bolsonaro’s Son Targeted by Police in Spying Agency

The bitter 2022 election has left lasting scars on Latin America’s largest democracy. Bolsonaro’s false campaign claims that electronic ballots were vulnerable to hacking have lowered Brazilians’ level of confidence in the electoral system, leading to some protests in the aftermath of the vote.

Allies Arrested

In early morning raids across Brazil on Thursday, the federal police made four arrests and executed 33 warrants against suspects who allegedly sowed distrust in the vote and plotted to overturn Lula’s narrow victory.

The Supreme Court decision that green lit what police are calling “Operation Tempus Veritatis” named over three dozen people, including former generals, aides of the former president and congressman Valdemar Costa Neto, the head of Bolsonaro’s party, as potential participants in the plot. The court ordered the arrest of Bolsonaro’s former adviser, Filipe Martins, among others. Neither Martins nor Marcelo Bessa, a lawyer of Costa Neto, responded to requests for comment.

In a radio interview Thursday morning, Lula declined to delve into of the specifics of an ongoing investigation but said it was likely that his predecessor played a role in last year’s unrest.

“I don’t think it would have happened without him,” he said. “His behavior was very different, first before the elections, he spent the entire time lying about the elections, about the polls.”

Read more: Bolsonaro’s Shadow Looms Over a Revamp of the Brazilian Right

The electoral authority banned Bolsonaro from holding public office last year over his efforts to discredit the voting system while serving as president. He is also facing over a dozen federal investigations over possible crimes that range from the illegal sale of luxury watches he received as presidential gifts to falsifying vaccination records.

He has denied any wrongdoing on all fronts, but many of the cases against him appear to be gaining steam. Last week, police raided the home of Bolsonaro’s son, Carlos, who is a councilman in Rio de Janeiro and a long-time adviser to the former president, as part of an investigation into the misuse of Brazil’s spy agency.

--With assistance from Bruna Lessa.

(Updates with statement from Bolsonaro’s laywers in fourth paragraph.)

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