Arrest of former aide raises pressure on President Bolsonaro

. Jun 18, 2020
bolsonaro ally fabricio queiroz Police arrest Fabrício Queiroz on June 18. Photo: AFP via Getty

Since the beginning of 2019, ‘Where is Queiroz?’ has become something of a rallying cry in Brazil for those opposed to President Jair Bolsonaro. ‘Queiroz,’ in this case, is Fabrício Queiroz, the former driver and close advisor of Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son. Regarded as the crucial element to blowing open corruption investigations that involve multiple members of the Bolsonaro family, Fabrício Queiroz had been on the run from the law for a year. That is, until this morning, when he was arrested in the state of São Paulo.

Fabricio Queiroz was taken into custody early on Thursday, being escorted out of a countryside property in the town of Atibaia, 60 kilometers north of São Paulo. The former advisor had been holed up at a home belonging to Frederick Wassef, the lawyer of both Jair and Flávio Bolsonaro.

</p> <p>Mr. Wassef is currently <a href="">one of the president&#8217;s closest interlocutors</a>, meeting with Mr. Bolsonaro regularly and attending official government functions.</p> <p>According to an employee on the property, Mr. Queiroz had been living at the residence for around one year. In interviews with local media in 2019, Mr. Wassef <a href="">denied knowing anything</a> about Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s whereabouts, as did Senator Bolsonaro.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img src="" alt="Frederick Wassef speaks to cable news channel GloboNews" class="wp-image-42762" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1280w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Frederick Wassef speaks to cable news channel GloboNews: &#8220;No idea&#8221; of Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s whereabouts. Photo: Globo</figcaption></figure> <h2>Tightening the screw on the Bolsonaro family</h2> <p>This morning&#8217;s arrest came as part of Operation Angel, a joint effort between the prosecution service of Rio de Janeiro and the São Paulo civil police. &#8216;Angel&#8217; is Frederick Wassef&#8217;s nickname among the Bolsonaro family, as he provides legal counsel to both President Jair and Senator Flávio. The operation is in connection with an alleged corruption scheme involving Flávio Bolsonaro during his stint as a Rio de Janeiro state lawmaker. Around one year ago, Mr. Wassef took up Flávio&#8217;s defense in this investigation.</p> <p>Rio de Janeiro prosecutors are working on a number of fronts against the president&#8217;s eldest son, declaring last week they had found &#8220;strong evidence&#8221; that Flávio Bolsonaro and his wife had committed the crime of money laundering in the purchase and sale of three real estate properties in the city.</p> <p>Simultaneous to this morning&#8217;s arrest of Mr. Queiroz, police forces also raided a home in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro, belonging to one of Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s staffers. It is believed the residence was used for election campaign meetings in 2018. Reports from neighbors say that loud hammering was heard during the operation, and law enforcement officials left the premises with two bags full of unidentified evidence.</p> <p>On Twitter, Flávio Bolsonaro called the operation &#8220;another move on the chessboard to attack [President] Bolsonaro,&#8221; stressing that the &#8220;<a href="">truth will prevail</a>.&#8221;</p> <h2>Who is Fabrício Queiroz? </h2> <p>A retired police officer with <a href="">links to paramilitary mafias in Rio de Janeiro</a>, Fabrício Queiroz has been friends with President Jair Bolsonaro since the two met in 1984, while the latter was serving in the army. Frequently pictured alongside one another during the 2010s, Mr. Queiroz was then employed by Flávio Bolsonaro as an advisor, during his term in office as a Rio de Janeiro state lawmaker — and this was where the corruption allegations first arose.</p> <p>In 2018, Brazil&#8217;s money laundering enforcement agency identified suspicious banking activity in the account of Fabrício Queiroz. Cash deposits in his name added up to BRL 1.2 million (USD 230,000) in 2016, and the &#8220;advisor&#8221; made a total of 176 cash withdrawals in the same period — carrying out five in one single day. Between 2014 and 2015, &#8220;atypical transactions&#8221; amounted to an extra BRL 5.8 million.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img src="" alt="bolsonaro ally fabricio queiroz (1)" class="wp-image-42764" srcset=" 660w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 660px) 100vw, 660px" /><figcaption>A friend of the family: Jair and Eduardo Bolsonaro with Fabrício Queiroz at a barbecue. Photo: Instagram</figcaption></figure> <p>These findings coincided with allegations that Flávio Bolsonaro was operating a so-called &#8220;<a href="">rachid scheme</a>&#8221; out of his parliamentary office — a not-uncommon form of corruption that involves public officials filling their staff with dummy employees and skimming their salaries for personal gain.</p> <p>Fabrício Queiroz was identified as the one who put this scheme into action, considering that a large amount of the &#8220;<a href="">atypical transactions</a>&#8221; on his bank account coincided with the paydays of Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s staffers. Many of the cash withdrawals were also done at an ATM inside of the Rio de Janeiro state legislature building.</p> <p>Flávio isn&#8217;t the only one of the president&#8217;s family on the line with Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s arrest. Among the former advisor&#8217;s transactions was a BRL 24,000 check made out to First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro. The president claimed this money was the settling of a personal loan he had given to Mr. Queiroz, the reason for which he could not recall.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Trouble ahead for President Bolsonaro?</h2> <p>In October of last year, leaked audio messages attributed to Mr. Queiroz showed Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s ex-advisor&#8217;s concerns about the investigations against him and the president&#8217;s son. He <a href="">claimed</a> the prosecution service was &#8220;preparing a d*** the size of a comet to stick inside us&#8221; and that he wasn&#8217;t receiving the protection he needed.</p> <p>Columnist Lauro Jardim, of newspaper O Globo, hinted towards the <a href="">added headache</a> for the Bolsonaro family with the arrest of Fabricio Queiroz&#8217;s wife, Márcia Aguiar.</p> <p>Ms. Aguiar, along with the couple&#8217;s daughter, Nathália, were both employed by Flávio Bolsonaro in the Rio de Janeiro state legislature, and it is believed they were accessories in the dummy employee corruption scheme. According to Mr. Jardim, Fabrício Queiroz has always &#8220;made it clear to the Bolsonaro family that he would take the blame for any accusations made against him by Public Prosecutors,&#8221; providing that his wife and daughter remained immune.</p> <p>The involvement of lawyer Frederick Wassef is another problematic element for the First Family. Representing both Jair and Flávio, Mr. Wassef is very close to the Bolsonaro clan, claiming in a recent interview that he &#8220;knows everything about the family,&#8221; having several private meetings at President Bolsonaro&#8217;s official residence. Were he roped into this investigation — the fact that the operation is named after him suggests he is in the prosecutors&#8217; sights — he may have a lot to say about Jair Bolsonaro and co.&nbsp;</p> <p>Thursday morning&#8217;s developments came as such a shock to the president that he canceled his daily meeting with his closest supporters who gather outside his official residence. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the <a href="">resignation of Sérgio Moro</a>, and an apparently never-ending institutional crisis, 2020 has already been an annus horribilis for Jair Bolsonaro.&nbsp;</p> <p>The arrest of Fabrício Queiroz is set to make things even worse.

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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