In attacking Sergio Moro, Bolsonaro risks making an enemy of the Federal Police

. Sep 08, 2019
bolsonaro federal police

In yet another attack on his Justice Minister Sergio Moro, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro could be making some very dangerous enemies within the country’s Federal Police.

Federal law enforcement has reacted badly to Mr. Bolsonaro’s latest attempts to interfere in key appointments within the force, an agency which traditionally holds a large degree of autonomy from the government.

</p> <p>In response to the backlash, the president called the complaints of his detractors within the Federal Police &#8220;nonsense,&#8221; and suggested that the corporation should &#8220;cool off.&#8221;</p> <h2>Meddling in police business</h2> <p>Last month, the Federal Police had planned to substitute the head of the force in Rio de Janeiro, but were caught off guard when Jair Bolsonaro announced the change himself, suggesting Ricardo Saadi would be dismissed due to matters of &#8220;management and productivity,&#8221; and that Amazonas police chief Alexandre Saraiva was the government&#8217;s pick for Mr. Saadi&#8217;s vacancy.</p> <p>There were three problems with Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s declaration, from the point of view of the Federal Police.</p> <p>The corporation had planned to replace Mr. Saadi for some time, and denied it had a connection to any management or productivity issues. In a statement, the Federal Police said the change &#8220;had been planned for months&#8221; and was the result of &#8220;the desire of [Mr. Saadi] to work in Brasilia, having no relation to his performance.&#8221;</p> <p>Also, the corporation&#8217;s pick for the new Rio chief was Carlos Henrique Oliveira—the current head of the Federal Police in Pernambuco—and not Alexandre Saraiva.</p> <p>Finally—and perhaps most importantly—the appointment of state superintendents is the responsibility of the Director General of the Federal Police, and not the government.</p> <p>As a fiercely autonomous agency, high-ranking members of the police threatened a revolt, saying they would resign<em> en masse </em>if Carlos Henrique Oliveira was not appointed as the new Federal Police chief in Rio de Janeiro.</p> <p>While these threats have cooled in recent weeks, Mr. Saadi has taken leave from his post and there is still uncertainty about who will be appointed in his place.</p> <h2>Cutting Moro down to size</h2> <p>Not satisfied with butting his nose into the business of state-level federal law enforcement, Jair Bolsonaro went a step further and suggested substituting the chief of the entire corporation. In a vindictive remark to journalists, he asked &#8220;what would be the problem&#8221; in substituting the current Federal Police head, Maurício Valeixo.</p> <p>&#8220;If I can&#8217;t change the Superintendent [of Rio de Janeiro], I&#8217;ll change the Director General,&#8221; he declared.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s pick would be the head of public security of the Federal District, Anderson Gustavo Torres—who, according to the Governor of the Federal District, Ibaneis Rocha, is &#8220;very close to the president.&#8221; In 2007, Mr. Torres was accused of torture, after having kidnapped two suspects of breaking into the home of a fellow federal marshal.</p> <p>Once again, this would be a case of Jair Bolsonaro breaking protocol in a clear attempt to undermine Justice Minister Sergio Moro. The president has the constitutional right to fire the Director General of the Federal Police, but the decision is traditionally made by the head of the Ministry of Justice. Furthermore, Maurício Valeixo was Mr. Moro&#8217;s pick to lead the Federal Police in the first place.</p> <p>When asked about the potential firing of Mr. Valeixo during a press conference on Wednesday, Sergio Moro remained silent and abandoned the interview after three minutes.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s <a href="">push to isolate Mr. Moro</a> gained extra impulse this week, as pollster Datafolha showed the Justice Minister remains the most popular political figure in the current government. According to the latest polls, the former Operation Car Wash judge has an approval rating of 54 percent, streets ahead of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s 29 percent.</p> <p>Despite having his name dragged through the mud by <em>The Intercept</em>&#8216;s <a href="">series leaks of private messages</a> between the former judge and Car Wash prosecutors—proving several acts of foul play during the Car Wash investigation—the Datafolha poll shows Mr. Moro retains a great deal of popularity and could yet emerge as a potential presidential candidate in 2022.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="bolsonaro prf federal police" class="wp-image-23663" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1086w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Jair Bolsonaro puts on the Federal Road Patrol cap</figcaption></figure> <h2>Bolsonaro playing with fire</h2> <p>While the true target of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s maneuvers is clearly Sergio Moro, the Federal Police has been caught in the crossfire and could turn out to be a very dangerous enemy for the president.</p> <p>Interfering with the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro is particularly treacherous for Jair Bolsonaro, as the force has been connected to high-profile investigations which have stepped on the toes of the president&#8217;s family.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the end of 2018, Brazil&#8217;s money laundering enforcement agency (Coaf) produced a report detailing suspicious transactions in the bank account of Fabricio Queiroz, who worked as a driver for the president&#8217;s eldest son, Flávio Bolsonaro, during his term as a state representative in Rio de Janeiro.</p> <p>This then led to a probe within the Public Prosecution Service of Rio de Janeiro, which investigates whether <a href="">Flávio Bolsonaro</a>—now a senator—participated in a corruption scheme which involved taking a cut from his employee&#8217;s salaries. The money laundering enforcement agency has since undergone a name change, and Jair Bolsonaro has fired its director.</p> <p>The investigation didn&#8217;t stop there, however, as it also uncovered several links between Flávio Bolsonaro and urban militia groups in Rio de Janeiro, including the head of the notorious &#8220;<a href="">Office of Crime</a>&#8221; death squad.</p> <p>At the same time, in separate investigations, the Federal Police in Rio concluded that the Office of Crime was behind the assassination of city councilor Marielle Franco in March 2018. As the two probes began to overlap, the pressure on Rio de Janeiro marshals increased.</p> <p>Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s assault on Sergio Moro may make political sense for the president&#8217;s re-election chances, but interfering with the highly technical and corporativist Federal Police is a risky move. High-ranking police chiefs have demanded action from Mr. Moro, though the Justice Minister remains passive. Were federal marshals to take this dispute into their own hands, it could be very compromising indeed for President Bolsonaro.</p> <p>On Friday morning, <em>Veja</em> magazine <a href="">reported</a> that the Rio de Janeiro Federal Police were investigating federal representative Hélio Negão, one of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s closest advisors with deep connections to the president&#8217;s family. It would appear that the backlash has already begun.

Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall. Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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