The announcement sent political shock waves through Latin America’s largest country, still reckoning with an attack by thousands of Bolsonaro supporters on its most important federal buildings early last year after a historically divisive presidential election, and brought closer the prospect that Brazil could again witness the prosecution of a former president.
Since Bolsonaro was bested by current president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and left office, he and his allies have fended off probes and allegations of corruption that have ranged from lying to U.S. authorities about Bolsonaro’s vaccination status, improper handling of state jewelry and using government surveillance to spy on opponents.
But the most significant has long been an investigation, overseen by the Brazilian supreme court, into whether the Bolsonaro government planned to subvert Brazilian democracy and maintain its grip on power despite the outcome of the 2022 presidential election.
On Thursday, federal police shared fresh findings of the investigation. Two police officials, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the probe, said the plot to steal power was far more advanced than previously known. It involved logistical and tactical planning and entailed the involvement of the most senior officials in the Brazilian government.
For months before the election, Bolsonaro and his top allies made unsubstantiated allegations in public and on social media that the Brazilian electoral system had been stained by fraud and could no longer be trusted. Police now say those remarks were part of a plot to provide political cover for a military takeover if the election didn’t go their way. Police say Bolsonaro officials also undertook logistical and tactical planning, in coordination with military officials, to execute the takeover.
The police ordered Bolsonaro, who has been staying at his beach house near the coastal city of Angra dos Reis, to refrain from any contact with aides under investigation.
Bolsonaro denied the allegations, saying he was the victim of political prosecution.
“I left office more than a year ago, and I’m still suffering implacable prosecution,” he is quoted as telling Folha de S.Paulo. “Forget me,” he added. “You now have another person governing the country.”
Thursday’s operation and revelations are sure to inflame political polarization in Brazil, which remains bitterly polarized over Bolsonaro’s presidency and what role he played in the January 2022 attack on Brasília.
Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio, a Brazilian senator, called the operation a “fishing expedition” and an attempt to “destroy the right.”
Lula, in a radio interview while visiting the state of Minas Gerais on Thursday, said he didn’t doubt Bolsonaro’s involvement in the alleged plan to militarily take over the country.
“It couldn’t have happened without him,” Lula said. “His behavior was so strange. Before the elections, he spent the entire time lying about the election, about the vote, casting suspicion on a process that elected him in 2018. It was a tactic.”