jewels and more

Federal Police awaits Bolsonaro for testimony next week: what could be his fate in court?

Brazilian former president will speak about the case of Saudi jewels, but may be summoned for other explanations

Translated by: Lucas Peresin

Brasil de Fato | Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) |
Bolsonaro will have many explanations to give to Brazilian justice in the upcoming months and years - Marcos Corrêa/Presidência da República

There were only a few hours left for the departure of the flight chosen for Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party) to come to Brazil for the first time as former President of the Republic when Brazilian press announced that the Federal Police (PF) had already scheduled a meeting: next Wednesday, April 5, he will have to explain his role in the Saudi Arabian jewels case.

That might be the first of many times that Bolsonaro will have to explain himself to public authorities. The alleged gifts sent by the Arabs are just the hottest topic, but the former president could be summoned to speak, for instance, about inciting anti-democratic acts or the disastrous management of his government during the most acute periods of the covid-19 pandemic.

Bolsonaro seems to be aware that his political future is in the hands of Justice. On March 14th, for instance, when asked in the United States if he will try to return to the electoral running for the presidency of Brazil in 2026, he acknowledged the possibility of becoming ineligible by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE). "There is this possibility of ineligibility, indeed. The issue of imprisonment, only if it is arbitrary," he said at the time.

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According to a recent survey carried out by the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, there will be no shortage of opportunities for him to be tried, since the now former president faces at least 16 investigation actions within the scope of the Electoral Justice - and any one of them can take away his right to to be elected to public office. Also according to Folha, members of the TSE want to speed up the processing of these cases.

Although the Federal Supreme Court (STF) overturned, in 2019, the imprisonment of people convicted in second instance, a conviction at the same level is sufficient for ineligibility, according to Brazilian electoral legislation. In other words: if a judgment by a court of law is confirmed by a second court, it is already determined that a citizen cannot run for public office.

Although the case makes many people anxious, an eventual conviction in the Saudi Arabian jewels case could take a long time. If the Brazilian Federal Police investigations conclude that there are indications of the commission of a crime, it will be up to the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office to prosecute Bolsonaro, and only then a process in the first instance would be initiated - and he will be able to appeal, once convicted.

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In this specific case, Bolsonaro could be convicted of the crime of embezzlement (when a public official appropriates money or other assets using its public position). Another possibility would be an action for administrative impropriety, as explained to Brasil de Fato by criminal lawyer José Carlos Portella Junior, member of the Advogadas e Advogados pela Democracia organization (AAD).

According to the expert, the case that could most quickly lead the former president to the condition of ineligibility is the investigation of the Brazilian Supreme Court into anti-democratic acts. Hundreds of people have already been arrested in recent months as part of what was called by Portella Junior a "super inquiry". The number of arrests increased after the riot promoted by Bolsonaro supporters in Praça dos Três Poderes on January 8.

"This would run in the Federal Supreme Court, not because Bolsonaro has privileged jurisdiction, but because [minister rapporteur of the inquiry] Alexandre de Moraes understands that, involving people with privileged jurisdiction who are articulating these anti-democratic acts, the other people involved with them should also be judged along with these other people in the Federal Supreme Court", explains the lawyer. "It would be the fastest way even to Bolsonaro's ineligibility, because the Supreme Court is the first and only instance".

Is prison a possibility?

In order for him to be arrested, it is necessary to have a final decision, when there are no more appeals in court. That would certainly take a long time. The expert, however, claims that popular pressure is needed for the former president to answer for his acts and omissions during the four years in which he occupied the most important seat in Brazilian national politics. For him, there is a chance that the crimes committed by Bolsonaro will go unpunished.

"So it demands that leftist parties, unions, student movements, social movements in general to put pressure on the Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor's Office and the police, so that things go forward. Otherwise, it won't go forward. We know how it is. Amnesty has already been made in the past, and it is possible to make an amnesty without needing an amnesty law, simply by letting things stand still until they prescribe", he warns.

Edited by: Flávia Chacon e Rodrigo Durão Coelho