To the dozens of judicial fronts that Jair Bolsonaro, 67, former president of Brazil, has open for accusations such as encouraging the anti-democratic attacks in January in Brasilia, genocide against indigenous people, abuse of power, charlatanism during the pandemic and a long etcetera. Now add another on account of some valuable jewels given by the royal family of Saudi Arabia in 2021. Everything indicates that he considered them a personal gift, and not from the State. There are two lots, one for women and the other for men, that an official Brazilian delegation brought into Brazil without declaring.
The female batch is still being held at airport customs; the masculine, in the power of the former president, for which the Court of Accounts ordered him last Wednesday to return it to the State in five business days. Everything indicates that someone will make the delivery in his name because the ultra-rightist has been in the United States since he ended his term and lost immunity.
The scandal of the jewels, revealed by the newspaper stadium, gets fatter every day with revelations and the dissemination of videos of stellar moments. At the center of the controversy, a box with a spectacular diamond necklace, earrings, a watch and a ring, with a Chopard certificate of authenticity and valued at 16 million reais (three million euros), and a second batch, less luxurious, made up of cufflinks, a watch, a ring, a pen and a rosary. Former President Bolsonaro, who at first tried to ignore the matter, later had to admit, given the forcefulness of the evidence, that he kept this last package. It is the one that the Court of Accounts now requires you to deposit in the Presidency of the Republic.
The controversy does not arise from accepting the expensive gifts from the Saudis, but from trying to introduce them into Brazil without declaring them or paying the corresponding taxes. And because then-President Bolsonaro carried out innumerable maneuvers for more than a year to recover the confiscated jewels, efforts in which he involved various ministries and other authorities that he pressured.
The case of the jewels is the most recent headache for Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly postponed the date of his return to Brazil. What was going to be a month-long stay to rest is now on the verge of extending a quarter, an absence that is eroding the political capital that he achieved in the elections, which he lost by the minimum. One of his important allies, the leader of the evangelical parliamentarians, made him ugly recently because he was “touring in the US” and not at home, leading the opposition to the government headed by the leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Bolsonaro publicly acknowledged a few days ago, in an act in Florida, that it is likely that some of the cases he has open imply his political disqualification. Lula wants him out of the game, but not in jail, because behind bars he would become a martyr. Investigations into the assault on Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court are still open, while some arrested those days are released with precautionary measures. Of the almost 1,400 detainees, 294 remain in prison.
The Saudi millionaire gift scandal has grown with revelations and the dissemination of security camera videos, which document the stellar moments of the case, and has focused on the gifts from foreign authorities to the former president. The Court of Accounts has also asked Bolsonaro to return some weapons given by the authorities of the United Arab Emirates on an official trip and that he took with him when moving from the presidential palace.
The high value of the diamonds and the thousand attempts by Bolsonaro to keep them have overshadowed the image of an honest man that he still maintains among his most unconditional followers since he won the elections in 2018 with a speech against corruption.
Although the previous president maintains the leadership of Bolsonarismo for now, the search for a replacement that could be fought in the next presidential elections has already begun. His wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, and the governor of São Paulo, his political godson Tarcísio de Freitas, poke their heads. Bolsonaro’s three eldest children, a deputy, a senator and a councilor, seem ruled out as political heirs. They have never had the father hook.
The jewels were not received by Bolsonaro in person, but by his then Minister of Mines and Energy, Bento Albuquerque, an admiral in the Brazilian Navy, during an official trip to Saudi Arabia in 2021. Upon returning to Brazilian soil, his entire entourage said in the airport that had nothing to declare. But the customs service inspected one of them, a military assistant to the minister, and inside his luggage they discovered the case with the diamond necklace and other women’s jewelry.
If that was a personal gift and not from the State, you had to pay 50% of its value in import taxes, plus a 25% fine. Security cameras recorded the minister’s attempts to convince the official to turn a blind eye because that package, he said, was for the first lady. Then, in the recent interrogation before the police, the former minister changed his version to say that they were actually for the State, but all of Brazil was able to see the images of his first reaction at the airport.
Bolsonaro made an enormous effort to recover the confiscated pieces, which were even about to be auctioned. On the eve of traveling to the US so as not to hand over the presidential sash to Lula, Bolsonaro made his last and desperate attempt at customs. He took advantage of the fact that an Air Force flight was going to São Paulo to look for a minister to send an official with the delicate mission. The images of his conversation with the customs service official show him undaunted by the urgency of the envoy, who begs him to give him the jewels because the matter must be resolved before the arrival of the new president.
The unions took the opportunity to highlight that employment stability is a key element so that customs officials do not bow down to pressure from the powerful, nor from the president. Thanks to the transparency portal, his compatriots know that they earn about 5,700 dollars a month (about 5,344 euros).
subscribe here to the EL PAÍS America newsletter and receive all the key information on current affairs in the region.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits