On Friday, President Jair Bolsonaro took part in a corporate event at Caixa, Brazil’s largest state-owned bank. He told the audience that the government “could face a tsunami” this week, without going into any further detail. Newspaper O Globo revealed a possible explanation for the president’s comments, reporting that a state court in Rio de Janeiro has lifted the bank secrecy of Senator Flávio Bolsonaro.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The president&#8217;s eldest son is suspected of running an embezzlement scheme while serving as a state congressman in Rio—a scandal that first broke in December last year. Investigators believe that his staffers were forced to surrender part of their salaries to the politician, something that, while common in Brazilian politics (to the point of having </span><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/12/14/suspicions-bolsonaro-clean-image/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">its own nickname</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">), is 100 percent illegal.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s talk of a &#8220;tsunami&#8221; may not be an overstatement. The judicial ruling grants a surprising level of access to investigators—ten years of bank statements, as well as those of 88 of Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s former aides. The wide range of the material could be quite damaging, given the company the senator keeps.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">His office at the Rio de Janeiro Legislative Assembly employed the mother and the wife of a former police captain accused of being one of the heads of a </span><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/01/23/flavio-bolsonaro-death-squad/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Rio de Janeiro death squad</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">—a group connected to urban militias and believed to be behind the assassination of city councilor Marielle Franco in March of last year. This former policeman, Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega, is officially considered a fugitive of justice.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Moreover, the case could also hit the presidential palace.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The alleged money laundering scheme was reportedly piloted by Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s former driver and aide Fabrício Queiroz. Last year, Brazil&#8217;s money laundering enforcement agency identified &#8220;atypical&#8221; cash transfers to Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s bank account, totaling BRL 1.2 million in 2016—many of them coincided with the paydays of public servants in Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s cabinet.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One such &#8220;atypical&#8221; operations was a BRL 24,000 check made out to First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro. In January, the president said the money was the payment of a </span><a href="http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/politica/noticia/2018-12/dinheiro-para-michelle-foi-quitacao-de-emprestimo-diz-jair-bolsonaro"><span style="font-weight: 400;">personal loan</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> he made to Mr. Queiroz—and that the payment was made to his wife because he had &#8220;no time to go out.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Betting on a plea bargain deal</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The prosecutors&#8217; strategy of lifting the bank secrecy of so many people at once is no coincidence. One obvious reason is to map the embezzlement scheme&#8217;s cash flow which might have flown under the radar of anti-money laundering authorities. But another is to try and coerce former aides to flip on Mr. Bolsonaro and sign a plea deal agreement.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The maneuver has been used extensively by Operation Car Wash. Despite successful, this strategy has drawn a lot of criticism. Opponents say prosecutors overplay their hand on weaker links, trying to push them into betraying the heads of corruption schemes.</span></p> <h2>Bolsonaro blaming the help</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There is reason to believe that the Bolsonaros knew what was coming. Besides the president&#8217;s reference to a &#8220;tsunami,&#8221; his son broke silence after months to give an </span><a href="https://politica.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,flavio-diz-que-investigacao-do-mp-e-ilegal-e-tem-de-ser-anulada,70002826210"><span style="font-weight: 400;">interview</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> to newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Estado de S.Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">. He called the investigation a witch hunt aimed at destroying his dad&#8217;s administration and said he &#8220;trusted [Mr. Queiroz] too much,&#8221; hinting that his line of defense might be to blame the help.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Rio de Janeiro State Prosecution Office has declared that Senator Flávio Bolsonaro has &#8220;directed his efforts to interrupt the investigations&#8221; against him. Earlier this year, the politician tried to block the probe evoking his legal prerogatives as a senator. However, current jurisprudence set by the Supreme Court grants legal benefits only in cases connected to the term which the politician is currently serving.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;[Mr. Flávio Bolsonaro] doesn&#8217;t act like other politicians, formally clarifying the facts around himself—and clearing himself from any cloud of suspicion,&#8221; wrote prosecutors. &#8220;The senator is a regular fixture in the press, but has never been to the prosecution&#8217;s office, despite multiple invitations [for him to give his version of the accounts].&#8221;

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PowerMay 14, 2019

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