Brazil’s Bolsonaro stays silent in meeting with police as part of coup investigation

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives to Federal Police headquarters to testify in an ongoing investigation in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. The ongoing investigation alleges Bolsonaro and some of his former top aides plotted a coup to remove his successor, President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva. (AP Photo/Luis Nova) (Luis Nova, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and some of his former top aides met Thursday with police as part of an investigation into allegations they plotted a coup to remove Bolsonaro's successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro arrived at Federal Police headquarters in the capital Brasilia, as did some of his former officials, including some top military advisers. The former leader chose to remain silent.

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Supreme Court documents show that investigators believe the alleged plot involved preparing a decree for Bolsonaro to sign in the event that he lost the 2022 election. The decree would have declared the vote fraudulent, to justify a possible military intervention and convene new elections. Bolsonaro never issued the decree to set the final stage of the alleged plan into action.

“Bolsonaro has never been sympathetic to any type of coup movement,” his lawyer Paulo Bueno told journalists in Brasilia.

No one has been formally charged in the case.

A total of 23 people were expected to give statements Thursday, of which 13 were in Brasilia, according to a federal official, who requested anonymity to share the information. They also included Bolsonaro's 2022 running mate and minister, Gen. Walter Braga Netto; a former adviser, Gen. Augusto Heleno; former Justice Minister Anderson Torres and the head of Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, Valdemar Costa Neto.

Bolsonaro said before the meeting that he would likely decline to comment to police, citing a lack of access to documents. “I follow the advice of the lawyers. If they have access (to the file) by tomorrow, obviously I’ll talk,” he said during an interview with CBN radio on Wednesday.

Bueno told journalists that remaining silent was not “simply the use of the constitutional exercise” but a strategy based on the fact that the defense did not have access to all the elements.

Leonardo Paz, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a think tank and university in Rio de Janeiro, said staying silent made sense so as to refrain saying something incriminating or inconsistent. But it also could be advantageous for Bolsonaro because it could allow him to see later on “what everyone said" before making his own statements, Paz said.

Brazilian police earlier this month searched the homes and offices of top aides of the former president and of one of his sons, Carlos Bolsonaro. They also seized the former leader’s passport as part of the investigation. Police said in a statement that they targeted suspects who “acted to attempt a coup d’etat.”

Bolsonaro repeatedly sowed doubt about the reliability of Brazil’s voting system, never conceded defeat and declined to attend Lula’s inauguration, though he left the country and kept a low profile in the days ahead of Lula’s swearing-in on Jan. 1, 2023.

On Jan. 8, 2023, Bolsonaro supporters launched a rampage in the capital.

The former president, who is barred from running for office again until 2030 after an electoral court ruling against him, has called on supporters to demonstrate in his favor on Sunday in one of Sao Paulo’s key arteries.

His lawyer Fabio Wajngarten said in Brasilia that he expected more than 100 federal lawmakers, 3 state governors and up to 15 senators to attend, as well as approximately 500,000 people.

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