Brazil’s Bolsonaro remains silent during police questioning over coup plotting allegations

By February 22, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday remained silent during questioning by Federal Police over his alleged involvement in plotting a coup ahead of the October 2022 presidential elections. Bolsonaro lost the elections to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and on January 8, 2023, Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed the country’s government headquarters in an attempt to overturn the election results. 

Coming into the questioning, Bolsonaro’s lawyers had already indicated the former leader would remain silent, and it is his right to do so under Brazilian law so as not to incriminate himself. His lawyers had originally asked for the testimony to be postponed, citing their lack of access to documents related to the investigation. The Supreme Court denied that request, and the questioning took place on Thursday. 

Bolsonaro has denied any involvement in the alleged coup plot. 

“This silence is a strategy because the defense did not have access to all the investigation and the facts attributed to the former president,” said Paulo Bueno, Bolsonaro’s lawyer. “The only reason for the silence is because, today, he responds to a semi-secret investigation.”

Police suspect that Bolsonaro participated in meetings and discussed strategies to remain in office following his loss to Lula. Bolsonaro allegedly received a draft decree from two former advisors to carry out a coup. The original version provided for the arrest of two Supreme Court judges and Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco. 

According to police, Bolsonaro allegedly ordered changes to the document to exclude Pacheco’s arrest, but maintained the order to arrest Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes.

Bolsonaro’s lawyers arriving at the Federal Police headquarters for the testimony. Image courtesy of Rafa Neddermeyer/Agência Brasil

Much of the information obtained about the draft decree, which also included measures to subvert the judicial and electoral systems, was obtained by the president’s close advisor and personal assistant, Lt Col. Mauro Cid, who is cooperating with investigators. 

Cid was arrested last year on suspicion of involvement in many illicit schemes under Bolsonaro’s government, including hawking jewelry gifted to Brazil by foreign countries and falsifying COVID-19 vaccination documents for Bolsonaro and his daughter in order for them to travel abroad. 

Read more: Bolsonaro assistant accused of selling gifts from foreign dignitaries; Brazil’s former president also under suspicion

After months in prison, Cid decided to cooperate with investigators. He delivered messages, documents and recordings that suggest the planning of a coup even before the October 2022 election.

A video police obtained from Cid’s computer allegedly shows a confidential meeting between Bolsonaro and former ministers on July 5, 2022, in which they discussed strategies to overcome a possible defeat in the election. The meeting took place at the Palácio do Planalto, the official workplace of the president, and was filmed by Cid, allegedly at Bolsonaro’s request.

Evidence against the former president

The video of the meeting and the draft decree outlining a coup could place Bolsonaro at the center of the government’s investigation.

Police argue that by ordering revisions to the draft decree, it shows Bolsonaro was aware of the document and what it represented, and that its ultimate purpose was to overthrow the elections should he lose. 

Federal Police headquarters in Brasília, where the coup attempt investigation is concentrated. Image courtesy of Rafa Neddermeyer/Agência Brasil

According to police, Bolsonaro did not inform the officials present at the July 5, 2023 meeting that it was being recorded and he instructed his allies to look for “solutions” in case of his defeat. He also instructed them to publicly suggest there was potential for fraud within Brazil’s electronic voting system — a claim that has been disproven. 

“We cannot wait for others to do it for us. We cannot remain silent. We cannot hide,” said the former president on the video recording. “Are we going to wait for 2023, 2024 to get f*cked? Then ask why didn’t I take action back then?”

Earlier this month, Federal Police carried out an operation against Bolsonaro, former ministers and members of the Brazilian Army. At the time, by order of the Supreme Court, Bolsonaro had to surrender his passport and was prohibited to maintain contact with the other suspects. 

In addition to the former president, 22 other people under investigation were questioned by police on Thursday.