Corruption Inquiry Involving Brazilian President’s Son Can Proceed, Court Says
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The presiding judge on Brazil’s Supreme Court overturned an injunction on Friday that had suspended an investigation into bank transactions involving Flávio Bolsonaro, the eldest son of President Jair Bolsonaro, ruling that the inquiry could proceed.
The investigation has proved one of the biggest challenges to Mr. Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who rose to power in Brazil on the back of his promise to eradicate entrenched political corruption and elitist privileges.
The case involving Flávio Bolsonaro began unfolding in December, when federal financial investigators discovered that about 1.2 million reais, or about $327,000, had been moved in and out of a bank account belonging to an aide, Fabrício Queiroz, in 2017. At the time, Flávio Bolsonaro was a Rio de Janeiro State lawmaker and Mr. Queiroz was his driver.
Some of the payments were to Michelle Bolsonaro, the wife of the current president. Jair Bolsonaro has said that those transactions were because Mr. Queiroz was repaying a loan to his wife.
Rio de Janeiro prosecutors who were investigating the case have declined to comment, but critics say the transactions, typically made around payday, could reflect an illegal but common practice in Brazil: hiring “ghost” or no-show employees and then pocketing large portions of their salaries.
It also emerged that the authorities were also investigating 48 cash deposits made on five days in a one-month period into Flávio Bolsonaro’s account.
Flávio Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing and has said that the transactions were part of a payment for a property he had sold.
Elected a federal senator in October, Flávio Bolsonaro initially said that he was not under investigation and that he would meet with prosecutors. But he suddenly changed tack in January and appealed to the Supreme Court to freeze the inquiry, claiming a right to legislative immunity.
With the full court in recess, the judge on duty agreed to suspend the investigation, despite the fact that the transactions had occurred when Flávio Bolsonaro was still a state representative. Under Brazilian law, federal lawmakers and high-level politicians can be tried only in the Supreme Court — which usually means the cases drag on for years.
The case, including Flávio Bolsonaro’s appeal, has prompted backlash even among allies.
During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the president, who had hoped to pitch his vision for a modern, law-abiding Brazil to investors and world leaders, ended up answering questions about his son.
“If by chance he erred, and it were proven, I regret it as a father, but he’ll have to pay the price for those actions we can’t accept,” he told Bloomberg.
Jair Bolsonaro, for years a marginal figure in Congress, rose to prominence in the midst of the so-called Car Wash investigation, which uncovered a huge bribery scandal involving politicians at the highest level and the state oil company.
On the campaign trail, he vowed to upend the status quo and repeatedly criticized immunity as a shield for corrupt politicians, calling it “garbage” in a 2017 video that he recorded alongside Flávio.
On Friday, Justice Marco Aurélio Mello said the protection from prosecution by lower courts did not apply to Flávio Bolsonaro because the transactions under investigation occurred before he had taken office as a federal lawmaker.
In the past week, the scandal involving the president’s son has been eclipsed by a deadly dam collapse in southeastern Brazil. But the case is likely to receive more coverage now that investigators can resume the inquiry and as Brazil’s newly elected lawmakers are sworn in after the summer recess.
Flávio Bolsonaro has remained relatively quiet after declaring on social media last week that he was the “victim of a slanderous campaign aimed at impacting the government of Jair Bolsonaro.”