Better Call Fred

. Jun 19, 2020
Frederick Wassef, during a presidential event on June 17. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR Frederick Wassef, during a presidential event on June 17. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

With scandal inching closer to the presidential palace, viewers of the soap opera that is Brazil’s institutional crisis are being introduced to myriad new characters that until recently had been relegated to the underground of politics. One of them is Frederick Wassef, a shady lawyer at the center of the latest affair rocking the Jair Bolsonaro presidency. On Thursday morning, police entered a property in Mr. Wassef’s name — registered as the office of his law firm — and found and arrested Fabrício Queiroz, a former advisor to the Bolsonaro family who investigators say operated an embezzlement scheme from within the office of Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, while he served as a state lawmaker.

Mr. Wassef — described by many as a “behind-the-scenes lawyer” — represents Senator Flávio Bolsonaro in the criminal investigation involving Fabrício Queiroz.

And while he said on multiple occasions he didn&#8217;t know the former aide&#8217;s whereabouts, the truth is that he orchestrated what law enforcement called a &#8220;professional scheme&#8221; to conceal Mr. Queiroz. That included a state-of-the-art surveillance system and a third person, yet to be identified, who monitored Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s every move. </p> <p>Stashing Mr. Queiroz in his law office, for instance, was not an accidental move from Mr. Wassef. The <a href="">Brazilian Constitution</a> grants law firms almost sanctuary-like status —&nbsp;as a way to protect defendants&#8217; right to due process. Only in the most exceptional cases, such as when lawyers are breaking the law, can that privilege be revoked.</p> <p>His unorthodox services earned Fred Wassef the nickname &#8220;Angel,&#8221; which was also the name of the police operation leading to Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s arrest on Thursday.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="660" height="400" src="" alt="frederick wassef" class="wp-image-42889" srcset=" 660w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 660px) 100vw, 660px" /><figcaption>Frederick Wassef was in the presidential palace on the eve of the Queiroz arrest. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR</figcaption></figure> <h2>When the Angel met the president</h2> <p>It is safe to say that Mr. Wassef is close to the Bolsonaro family. He often receives invites to official events held at the presidential palace. Just this week, on the eve of Fabrício Queiroz&#8217;s arrest, the lawyer attended the inauguration of <a href="">newly-appointed Communications Minister Fabio Faria</a>. He also <a href="">visits the president&#8217;s official residence</a> on weekends, often holding meetings that last for hours. And Senator Flávio Bolsonaro is frequently seen at his Brasília home.</p> <p>The &#8220;Angel&#8221; reportedly has <a href="">power of attorney</a> for at least three members of the First Family: the president himself, in three cases; Flávio, in another three, and Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Carlos Bolsonaro — the second-oldest son — in another three cases. And, according to Mr. Wassef himself, their relationship is unlike regular client-attorney proximity. “I am here daily with the president and the Bolsonaro family. I know everything that goes through them,” he told a regional radio station on April 28.</p> <p>How he came to be one of the president&#8217;s most trusted advisors, however, is less clear. Mr. Wassef says he decided to reach out to Jair Bolsonaro back in 2014, impressed by a speech of the then-congressman against gun control. He credits himself for pushing Mr. Bolsonaro to run for president.</p> <p>“I was not only the first to believe Mr. Bolsonaro, but I was the first to put the idea of running for president in his mind,” he was quoted as saying by news website UOL.</p> <p>The idea of making a president out of a decades-long backbencher reportedly came after the sweeping Operation Car Wash probe ravaged the political mainstream. “I had access to the Car Wash [files]. I knew they were all going to be arrested. I told him: you will be alone and without competition in the market. I foresaw the future.”</p> <p>After Thursday&#8217;s police operation, President Bolsonaro has tried to separate himself from Mr. Wassef. His official lawyer, <a href="">Karina Kufa</a>, issued a statement saying her law firm is the only one that represents Jair Bolsonaro, and that Mr. Wassef never held power of attorney for the president. A statement that is contradicted by Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s own words in the past —&nbsp;as well as by his spokesman.</p> <h2>How the Queiroz-Wassef case is dangerous for Jair Bolsonaro</h2> <p>The criminal case in question targets Senator Flávio Bolsonaro — but his father certainly has a lot to lose if the case escalates. And that is because it ties the First Family to paramilitary mafias that, in many cases, operate notorious death squads around the state of Rio de Janeiro.</p> <p>During his years as a Rio state lawmaker, Flávio Bolsonaro is suspected of running a rudimentary — and frankly quite common — corruption scheme, forcing staffers to surrender part of their salaries to Mr. Bolsonaro. In some cases, employees would hand in over 90 percent of their paychecks.&nbsp;</p> <p>The scheme was allegedly operated by Fabrício Queiroz, arrested this week. But the plot thickened as investigators discovered it also involved family members of Adriano da Nóbrega, a former cop who <a href="">ran a feared death squad</a> in Rio de Janeiro — and who was killed in a police operation earlier this year. Mr. Nóbrega&#8217;s mother and wife were employed in Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s office, and investigations have shown that part of their salaries went to the crime boss.</p> <p>Rio de Janeiro prosecutors estimated yesterday that Mr. Nóbrega deposited around BRL 400,000 into bank accounts belonging to Fabrício Queiroz.</p> <h2>A track record for shady lawyers</h2> <p>Mr. Wassef is not the first attorney linked to the Bolsonaro family to have raised scandal. In May, former government ally Paulo Marinho gave a &#8220;tell-all&#8221; interview to newspaper Folha de S. Paulo claiming that another pair of lawyers to the president and his sons had a hand in leaking confidential Federal Police information to the First Family.</p> <p>Victor Granado Alves and Mariana Frassetto Granado were accused of being middlemen in divulging top-secret details about Federal Police operations to the Bolsonaro family. <strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>covered the case in a <a href="">May 20 article</a>.

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José Roberto Castro

José Roberto covers politics and economics and is finishing a Master's Degree in Media and Globalization. Previously, he worked at Nexo Jornal and O Estado de S. Paulo.

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