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Bolsonaro surrenders passport in Brazil 'coup' probe

Brazilian former president Jair Bolsonaro will surrender his passport amid ongoing probes over the January 8, 2023 invastion of the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court (Sergio Lima)
Brazilian former president Jair Bolsonaro will surrender his passport amid ongoing probes over the January 8, 2023 invastion of the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court (Sergio Lima)

Brazil's ex-president Jair Bolsonaro surrendered his passport Thursday as police raids targeted him and his inner circle over allegations of orchestrating an invasion of government buildings last year.

Federal police said they were carrying out 33 search and seizure operations and executing four arrest warrants in an investigation of a "criminal organization involved in the attempted coup" -- a reference to Bolsonaro supporters' storming of the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court on January 8, 2023.

The raids were authorized by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who also ordered that multiple suspects be suspended from public duties and surrender their passports within 24 hours.

That included Bolsonaro, whose lawyer and adviser Fabio Wajngarten confirmed in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, that the far-right ex-army captain's passport had been handed over to authorities.

Bolsonaro called himself the victim of "relentless persecution," in comments to a journalist for newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. The former president, who was in the United States at the time of the riots, has repeatedly denied responsibility.

Four army generals were also targeted in the raids, including Bolsonaro's former defense minister and vice presidential candidate Walter Braga Netto, and one of the ex-president's closest advisors, Augusto Heleno.

The head of Bolsonaro's Liberal Party (PL), Valdemar Costa Neto, was also targeted.

Three people have been arrested so far in the operation, according to Brazilian media reports: two army officers and a former international affairs adviser to Bolsonaro, Filipe Martins.

- 'Plan to subvert democracy' -

The riots came a week after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's inauguration following a narrow election win in October 2022 over Bolsonaro, who served as president from 2019 to 2022.

Tens of thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed the halls of power, trashing the premises and calling for the military to oust veteran leftist Lula, alleging, without evidence, that the election was stolen.

The episode drew comparisons to the assault on the US Capitol in Washington almost exactly two years earlier by supporters of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro's political role model.

Moraes said in his ruling the suspects had "executed a plan to subvert the democratic rule of law, with the aim of preventing the installment of the legitimately elected government and maintaining then-president Jair Bolsonaro in power."

Investigators said organizers had drafted a plan to call new elections and arrest Moraes. The high court judge is a frequent target of Bolsonaro's criticism.

Lula called for a full investigation to uncover who organized and financed the January 8 attacks.

"I don't think it could have happened without" Bolsonaro, Lula said in an interview with Brazil's Radio Itatiaia.

"He wasn't ready to give up power, to the point that he refused to hand me the presidential sash and ran off crying to the United States."

- 'Decisive moment' -

More than 2,000 people have been arrested over the riots in Brasilia. Thirty have been convicted so far on charges including an attempted coup, with prison sentences of up to 17 years.

Thursday's raids show the January 8 investigation is "reaching the decisive moment," said political analyst Andre Cesar.

The documents presented by investigators "appear to prove there was in fact a pro-coup movement," and it "will be hard for defense lawyers to explain" Bolsonaro and his advisers' actions, he told AFP.

On Thursday, police found a document at the headquarters of the Liberal Party in Brasilia which appeared to be a speech announcing a state of siege, according to a version published by media.

Wajngarten denied his client was the author, saying the text "does not correspond" with Bolsonaro's speech patterns.

Bolsonaro faces numerous investigations of alleged corruption and abuse of office stemming from his time in power.

In June, the electoral court -- which is headed by Moraes -- barred him from running for public office for eight years over his unproven fraud allegations against Brazil's voting system.

The court dealt Bolsonaro a new blow Thursday, fining him 15,000 reais ($3,000) for "spreading disinformation" during the presidential campaign that linked Lula to one of Brazil's most powerful drug gangs, the First Capital Command (PCC).

Bolsonaro's inner circle, including several of his sons, has also been caught up in an investigation into allegations of illegal spying on his perceived opponents and other figures during his presidency.

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