Congressional draft report in Brazil recommends charges for Bolsonaro over insurrection attempt

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A draft congressional report on Brazil’s Jan. 8 riots on Tuesday accused ex-President Jair Bolsonaro of being the insurrection’s mastermind and recommended he be criminally charged with attempting to stage a coup.

The report by Sen. Eliziane Gama followed months of hearings by a committee investigating the uprising in Brasilia, and cited evidence including phone records. It proposed charges against Bolsonaro including the violent overthrow of democratic rule.

Bolsonaro, who lost his reelection bid last fall, has denied any involvement in the rioting, which took place after he had quietly left the country to stay in Florida while refusing to attend the inauguration of incoming President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

A full panel of 32 lawmakers — most of whom are allied with Lula — are scheduled to vote on the inquiry report Wednesday and are seen as likely to adopt the measure, which would serve as a recommendation to prosecutors.

On Jan. 8, one week after Lula took office, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace, refusing to accept his election defeat. They bypassed security barricades, climbed on roofs, smashed windows and invaded the public buildings.

Many observers at the time speculated that the riot was a coordinated effort to oust Lula from office, and could not have occurred without the complicity of some of the military and police. Gama’s report jibes with those claims, and goes a step further in naming Bolsonaro as the ringleader.

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“Jair Bolsonaro and everyone around him knew about this,” Gama said as she read out her 1,100 page-long report in Senate. “They understood the violence and the scope of the demonstrations. They frequented the same groups on social media. They encouraged and fed rebellion and dissatisfaction. They deliberately added more fuel to the fire they themselves had lit.”

Bolsonaro had long stoked belief among his hardcore supporters that the nation’s electronic voting system was prone to fraud, though he never presented any evidence.

In one of the inquiry’s most-watched hearings, a Brazilian hacker claimed that Bolsonaro, then still in power, had asked him to infiltrate the country’s electronic voting system to expose its alleged weaknesses ahead of the Oct. 30, 2022 presidential election. Bolsonaro acknowledged he and the hacker spoke, but denies the allegation that he requested a the hack.

Aside from Bolsonaro, Gama’s list of proposed indictments also targets dozens of others.

They include Gen. Braga Netto, who served as Bolsonaro’s Defense Minister and then was his running mate. Also on the list are Anderson Torres, ex-Justice minister and secretary of public security in Brasilia; former institutional security minister Gen. Augusto Heleno; former Chief of Staff Gen. Luiz Eduardo Ramos; the head of Brazil’s Defense, Navy and Armed forces.

Federal police separately have already been investigating Bolsonaro’s role in inciting the Jan. 8 uprising.

The conservative firebrand lost his re-election bid to Lula, his leftist political nemesis, who garnered 50.9% of the votes. It was the narrowest presidential election result since Brazil’s 1985 return to democracy after two decades of military rule.

Afterward, he shrank from the spotlight. He first remained holed up in the presidential residence then, on the eve of Lula’s inauguration, set out for Orlando, Florida and stayed there for months. His party had scored more seats in Congress than any other, but its would-be leader was virtually silent. And Bolsonaro was soon targeted by other investigations.

Federal police in August alleged Bolsonaro received cash from the nearly $70,000 sale of two luxury watches he received as gifts from Saudi Arabia while in office. Officers raided the homes and offices of several people purportedly involved in the case, including a four-star army general.

Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing involving the gifts.

He was also barred in June from running for office until 2030 after a panel of judges concluded that he abused his power and cast unfounded doubts on the country’s voting system.

In 2021, a Senate-led inquiry report urged that Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly bungling the country’s response to COVID-19 and contributing to Brazil having the world’s second-highest pandemic death toll. No charges have been brought along those lines.

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