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Money laundering agency ties Brazil’s First Lady to shady operator

. Aug 07, 2020
Money laundering agency ties Brazil's First Lady to shady operator First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro and President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR

Fabrício Queiroz, an obscure former cop who worked as a fixer for President Jair Bolsonaro’s family, was thrust into the public spotlight late in 2018. A report by Brazil’s money laundering enforcement agency raised suspicions that now-Senator Flávio Bolsonaro — who was then a state lawmaker — was running, with the help of Mr. Queiroz, a corruption scheme consisting of forcing staff members to surrender part of their paychecks. At the time, the scandal seemed more confined to the universe of Rio de Janeiro’s local politics, with one exception: ten checks amounting to BRL 24,000 (USD 4,400), made out to First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro.

The president said the money was payment for a loan he had given to Mr. Queiroz. “I lent him some money. He had a financial problem and debt that snowballed a bit,” said Jair Bolsonaro at the time. The payments, said the president, were made to his wife because he “has no time to go out.”

Now, we discover that the connections between the First Lady and the man who ran the scheme for the president’s son are much wider than initially thought.

As <a href="https://crusoe.com.br/edicoes/119/mais-cheques-para-michelle/">exposed</a> by online magazine Crusoé —&nbsp;and confirmed by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>&#8216;s Brasília office — money laundering enforcement agents came across a total of 21 checks from Mr. Queiroz to Michelle Bolsonaro, between 2011 and 2018, amounting to BRL 76,000. The quantity and value of these repeated payments cast the president&#8217;s arguments into serious doubt.</p> <h2>Linking Queiroz and the First Lady</h2> <p>The investigation began with a 2018 report from Brazil&#8217;s money laundering enforcement agency, which identified transactions totalling BRL 1.2 million (USD 220,000) in accounts belonging to Fabrício Queiroz. Prosecutors used this as a jumping-off point to delve into the corruption racket operating within the Rio de Janeiro State Congress, involving Flávio Bolsonaro and Mr. Queiroz, who has been close friends with President Bolsonaro since were Army colleagues over 30 years ago.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the prosecution service, 11 of Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s staffers transferred at least BRL 2 million to Mr. Queiroz between 2007 and 2018, with the majority of these transactions consisting of cash deposits. In total, around 60 percent was passed on by Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s wife, Márcia Aguiar, and by his daughters Nathalia and Evelyn, all three of whom were under Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s employ. During the same period, Mr. Queiroz withdrew a total of BRL 2.9 million, indicating that the entire amount received in the first place may have been larger, leading prosecutors to stress that the corruption scheme may not be limited to the 11 staffers identified by banking records.</p> <p>Upon gaining access to Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s bank statements, investigators found that he had also made deposits into the bank account of Michelle Bolsonaro, the wife of the Brazilian president. As revealed by Crusoé this afternoon, the former military policeman paid at least 21 cheques in the name of the First Lady, and not the ten originally revealed in 2018.</p> <p>After refusing to provide testimony and having his whereabouts unknown, Fabrício Queiroz was arrested in June, after he was <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/06/19/who-is-fred-wassef-jair-bolsonaro-shady-lawyer/">found hiding out at the residence of lawyer Frederick Wassef</a>, who at the time acted as defense counsel for both Flávio Bolsonaro and the president. On July 10, he was placed on house arrest.</p> <h2>The Bolsonaros choose silence</h2> <p>Transparency has never been the forte of the Bolsonaro family. To this day, Mrs. Bolsonaro has yet to say a word in public about the ten initially uncovered checks made out in her name, while her husband Jair Bolsonaro has always displayed irritation when asked about it.&nbsp;</p> <p>The checks signed by Mr. Queiroz and paid to Mrs. Bolsonaro are the main piece of evidence linking the presidential palace to the Rio money laundering scheme. But they are not alone. Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s daughter Nathalia was also a dummy employee in Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s office in the lower house — receiving a hefty salary between 2011 and 2016 but never showing up to work. Bank statements show that Nathalia Queiroz wired over BRL 633,000 to her father between 2007 and 2018.</p> <p>At the time of publishing, President Jair Bolsonaro hadn&#8217;t commented on the case —&nbsp;and his press office failed to issue any statement. Not even his <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/02/25/bolsonaro-brothers-government/">politician sons</a>, who are active on social media, have made any reference to the revelations.</p> <p>On previous occasions, Mr. Bolsonaro has tried to dodge any responsibility for the affair. He once said he has no control over his son&#8217;s financial activities and has also thrown Mr. Queiroz under the bus. &#8220;If he committed any crime, he should be the one to pay. Not me,&#8221; said Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <h2>Opposition parties want to investigate First Lady</h2> <p>While the Bolsonaros keep mum, the president&#8217;s congressional opposition are calling for a parliamentary hearings committee to scrutinize the case. &#8220;Congress can no longer ignore the suspicions against Fabrício Queiroz and the Bolsonaro family,&#8221; said Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, from environmentalist party Rede.</p> <p>Even former allies have called out the First Family. Libertarian Congressman Kim Kataguiri —&nbsp;who supported Mr. Bolsonaro in the 2018 runoff stage — says the new revelations suggest the president is himself involved in criminal activities. &#8220;Every day, the case gets nearer to the head of state. That would explain why the president would have tried to meddle with the Federal Police,&#8221; said Mr. Kataguiri.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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