The corruption case against Jair Bolsonaro’s son and his former advisor

. Aug 12, 2020
jair bolsonaro first lady michelle bolsonaro corruption case Image: André Chiavassa/TBR

Elected on an anti-corruption platform, links between President Jair Bolsonaro and a scandal involving the misapplication of public funds are becoming closer every day. Made public on Friday, evidence shows that First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro received regular checks from retired military policeman Fabrício Queiroz, singled out as the operator of a scandal involving parliamentary staffers transferring part of their salaries to their elected bosses. Investigators found that Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, received kickbacks from his employees during his time as a Rio de Janeiro state lawmaker, intermediated by Mr. Queiroz. Furthermore, there are indications that Mr. Bolsonaro paid personal bills using the proceeds of the corruption scheme, as well as using a part of the money to purchase a company.

The Brazilian Report had access to key documents of the investigation launched 20 months ago. Among the files, there is a report from Rio de Janeiro prosecutors showing links and proof of the salary-skimming scheme operating within Flávio Bolsonaro’s office. There is also the document upon which the arrests of Fabrício Queiroz and his wife, Márcia Aguiar, were based. Three weeks ago, the couple were placed on house arrest after Mr. Queiroz spent 14 days in jail. Both have refused to collaborate with investigations.

</p> <p>The latest bombshell in the case broke on Friday, courtesy of online magazine Crusoé and confirmed by other outlets, including <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. Crusoé revealed that Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s bank statements showed Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s former aide signed 21 checks in the name of First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro between 2011 and 2016, with a total value of BRL 72,000 (USD 13,200).</p> <p><strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>ascertained that the values transferred between the Queiroz and Bolsonaro families were in fact larger. Besides her husband, Márcia Aguiar also deposited five checks worth BRL 3,000 and one worth BRL 2,000 into Mrs. Bolsonaro&#8217;s account, adding up to an extra BRL 17,000.</p> <p>We<strong> </strong>also noticed that Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s deposits into the First Lady&#8217;s account followed a pattern of BRL 3,000 or BRL 4,000 per month. One spreadsheet shows at least 21 checks worth BRL 3,000 deposited between 2011 and 2018: three in 2011, six in 2012, three in 2013, and another three in 2016.&nbsp;</p> <p>Furthermore, the bank statements showing transactions from Mr. Queiroz and Ms. Aguiar to Mrs. Bolsonaro contradicts the president&#8217;s version of events. When the salary embezzlement scandal broke, it was reported that Mr. Queiroz had deposited just BRL 21,000 in checks to Michelle Bolsonaro. The following day, President Bolsonaro told journalists that they totalled BRL 40,000, in ten BRL 4,000 payments, as repayment for a loan. Mr. Bolsonaro also stressed that Fabrício Queiroz had been his friend for over 30 years. However, prosecutors found no record of this loan among Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s banking records.</p> <p>Since the latest revelations, <a href="">no member of the Bolsonaro family</a> has spoken publicly about the case. Mr. Bolsonaro has even avoided speaking to his most assiduous supporters, who gather around his official residence every morning. The president&#8217;s office has said it will not be issuing a statement on the matter, though close advisors — especially those from the military wing of the government — have admitted behind the scenes that the scandal has worsened significantly.</p> <p>Unlike Flávio Bolsonaro, Michelle Bolsonaro doesn&#8217;t hold public office and cannot simply resign. Neither can she benefit from parliamentary immunity. There is also lingering doubt over whether President Bolsonaro was a direct beneficiary of the corruption scheme, which would see him lose political capital and, consequently, his job. Below, we outline the details of why the Bolsonaro family has remained quiet and the president&#8217;s closest advisors have shown concern, with facts that could lead to the opening of a parliamentary hearings committee to investigate the full involvement of the First Family in skimming salaries from public servants.</p> <h2>Records contain suspicious transactions</h2> <p>The tithe-like corruption scandal came to light thanks to an investigation launched by the Operation Car Wash task force in Rio de Janeiro. On January 3, 2018, corruption specialists from the Rio state prosecution service received a report from Brazil&#8217;s money laundering enforcement agency (Coaf) containing spreadsheets with the names of 75 current and former public servants of the state&#8217;s legislative assembly. Upon analyzing the amounts involved, investigators also came across atypical bank transactions.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The document was commissioned by federal prosecutors as part of Operation <em>Furna da Onça</em>, an offshoot of the Car Wash probe to <a href="">investigate a bribery scheme</a> by which politicians were paid to support the interests of former Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral. Flávio Bolsonaro, who was a state lawmaker between 2003 and 2018, was not under investigation. However, in its analysis, Coaf found that the 75 current and former public servants that had made suspicious transactions had worked in the offices of 22 politicians, including Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s. One of the 75 was Fabricio Queiroz.&nbsp;</p> <p>What initially attracted the attention of the investigators was that Mr. Queiroz had transferred BRL 1.2 million between January 2016 and January 2017, which was not in line with his net worth and salary. As a staffer at the Rio state congress, his salary was BRL 8,517 a month, and he received a further monthly payment of BRL 12,600 from the Military Police.&nbsp;</p> <p>But state prosecutors found that Mr. Queiroz transferred a much higher amount of money in his bank accounts: almost BRL 3 million between April 2007 and December 17, 2018. Of this total, BRL 2 million came from hundreds of transfers and cash deposits made by 11 advisors, who were family members, neighbors, or friends of the former police officer. All of the deposits were made at a cash machine inside the Rio state congress building.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="655" src="" alt="corruption queiroz brazil bolsonaro" class="wp-image-46099" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></figure> <h2>A family of dummy employees</h2> <p>Among these public servants who worked in Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s office and made <a href="">transfers to Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s bank account</a> was one of his daughters. Nathalia Melo de Queiroz was employed as a staffer of Mr. Bolsonaro from 2011 to 2016, when she transferred to work at the office of then-congressman Jair Bolsonaro in Brasília. However, at the same time as she was meant to be employed at the legislative chambers in Rio and Brasília, Ms. Queiroz also worked as a personal trainer in a Rio de Janeiro gym, coaching a cast of the city&#8217;s rich and famous, which included famous soap opera stars.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nathalia Queiroz began working alongside the Bolsonaro family when she was 18 years old, being appointed a vice-leader of the Progressive Party (now Progressistas), of which Flávio Bolsonaro was a member. She kept this post until February 2011, when she went to work as a staffer for Mr. Bolsonaro, before transferring to the employ of his father. Her contract was terminated in October 2018, the same month Fabrício Queiroz left Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s office in Rio de Janeiro.&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite spending two years as an employee of Jair Bolsonaro in the House of Representatives in Brasília, Nathalia Queiroz never once set foot inside the Congress building. As well as her father, her sister Evelyn and stepmother Márcia Aguiar also worked for Flávio Bolsonaro between 2007 and 2016. Prosecutors of the Queiroz case affirm that all three were dummy employees.&nbsp;</p> <p>Indications that Nathalia Queiroz was in fact a dummy employee of the House of Representatives led to the opening of another investigation, this time by the Federal Prosecution Service in the Federal District. Three people were identified as having registered the attendance of Ms. Queiroz when she was a parliamentary secretary of then-congressman Jair Bolsonaro. The names have been kept confidential, as has the investigation.&nbsp;</p> <p>Federal prosecutors summoned Ms. Queiroz for questioning, but the date of her hearing has yet to be scheduled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is expected to take place in Rio de Janeiro, where Nathalia Queiroz resides.</p> <h2>Staffer paid boss&#8217;s personal bills</h2> <p>With the information gathered in the first stage of the investigation, members of the Rio de Janeiro prosecution service were left in no doubt as to the practice of the salary-skimming corruption scheme, with Fabricio Queiroz collecting the funds from Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s office. What also drew attention was that Mr. Queiroz deposited another BRL 94,812 into his own account and made 176 cash withdrawals throughout 2016. He transferred almost BRL 7 million over three years. Between January 2016 and January 2017, he received deposits and made withdrawals amounting to BRL 1.2 million. Due to this high volume, prosecutors formalized the opening of an investigation against both Mr. Queiroz and Flávio Bolsonaro, to identify whether the president&#8217;s son was the primary beneficiary of the corruption scheme.&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer would come soon after.</p> <p>Investigators discovered that the funds were passed on to Flávio Bolsonaro by way of other deposits or the payment of personal expenses. They found over 100 invoices for school tuition fees and private healthcare plans paid in cash, as well as a BRL 25,000 deposit in Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s wife&#8217;s bank account. Prosecutors also found a video of Fabrício Queiroz making payments at a bank teller. Due to the time, date, and amount involved, the footage shows the payment of the October 2018 tuition fees of Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s daughters. Further payments of monthly bills are also under investigation.&nbsp;</p> <p>In December of last year, prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro carried out the first search and seizure warrants at addresses linked to Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s former aide. Investigators were no longer in any doubt that he worked as the corruption scheme&#8217;s financial operator. Besides the payment of the tuition fees of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s children, prosecutors investigated whether he also used a <a href="">Rio de Janeiro chocolate shop</a>, registered in his name, in order to conceal funds taken from the salaries of his staffers. The probe also investigated whether the president&#8217;s son used the embezzled public money to purchase real estate.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="655" src="" alt="real estate money laundering bolsonaro" class="wp-image-46097" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></figure> <h2>President&#8217;s ex-wife also under investigation</h2> <p>The operation also consisted of search and seizure operations at addresses linked to nine relatives of lawyer Ana Cristina Siqueira Valle, Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s ex-wife. Her family members also worked at Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s office at the Rio de Janeiro legislative assembly. According to the investigation, Ms. Valle&#8217;s family lived in the city of Resende, 160 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro, yet were signed in every day as working regularly at the state congress building.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prosecutors found that Ms. Valle&#8217;s family members withdrew practically the entirety of their monthly salaries immediately after payday, raising suspicion that it would promptly be handed over to Fabrício Queiroz. Andrea Siqueira Valle, Ana Cristina&#8217;s sister, withdrew 98 percent of her pay when she worked for Flávio Bolsonaro between 2008 and 2017. José Cândido Procópio Valle, Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s ex-father-in-law, withdrew 99 percent of everything he earned in his three-year stint as a staffer for Flávio Bolsonaro.</p> <p>The lawyer&#8217;s cousin, Daniela Siqueira, topped the leaderboard in the amount of cash withdrawn, taking almost BRL 800,000 out of her account during her time working for the president&#8217;s son — 96 percent of her total pay. The same behavior was repeated by an uncle, three aunts, and another two cousins of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s ex-wife. Of the BRL 4.8 million received by the Valle family from their respective times working for Flávio Bolsonaro, BRL 4 million were withdrawn from ATMs. Ana Cristina Valle was later put under investigation for another similar scheme involving one of her other stepsons, Rio de Janeiro city councillor Carlos Bolsonaro, whom she worked for between 2001 and 2008.</p> <p>Carlos Bolsonaro, the president&#8217;s <a href="">second-eldest son</a>, has been in the crosshairs of an investigation by the Rio de Janeiro prosecution service since June last year, suspected of benefitting from a salary-skimming scheme within his own office. Despite living in another city, other relatives of then-congressman Jair Bolsonaro were also given jobs in the Rio de Janeiro City Council, which was only considered nepotism by the Supreme Court as of 2008. Regardless, the investigation into Carlos Bolsonaro is still in its early stages. His step-mother and her family chose to remain silent during their testimonies.</p> <p>Ana Cristina Valle and Jair Bolsonaro were married between 1997 and 2007. In this time, Ms. Valle acquired 14 real estate properties along with Mr. Bolsonaro, which were valued at around BRL 3 million at the time of their separation in 2008. Adjusted for inflation, this would be the equivalent of BRL 5.3 million today. Five of the 14 properties were purchased in cash between 2000 and 2006, while Ms. Valle worked as Carlos Bolsonaro&#8217;s chief of staff in the Rio de Janeiro City Council. Investigators believe that this money may have resulted from a corruption scheme within the office of the president&#8217;s son.</p> <p>In 1997, Ms. Valle had no assets, while Jair Bolsonaro owned two apartments and a plot of land. When the marriage ended, she accused her husband of concealing wealth and receiving undeclared payments. According to her, Mr. Bolsonaro had a &#8220;prosperous financial situation,&#8221; supplied by a monthly income of BRL 100,000, in 2008 values. Officially, Mr. Bolsonaro earled BRL 26,700 a month as a congressman and another BRL 8,600 as his military salary. This difference, according to Ms. Valle, came from &#8220;other payments.&#8221; After this conflict, the pair reached a financial settlement.</p> <h2>Company in Panama and money laundering</h2> <p>The buying and selling of real estate also drew the attention of investigators in the case against Flávio Bolsonaro. Prosecutors found that he profited up to 292 percent on real estate deals suspected to have <a href="">involved money laundering</a>. The information is part of a request to lift the banking and tax secrecy of the president&#8217;s son. Flávio Bolsonaro purchased 19 properties for BRL 9.4 million between 2010 and 2017, and carried out sales generating profit of BRL 3 million.</p> <p>One of the most prominent cases is that of an apartment in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Copacabana. It was purchased by Mr. Bolsonaro in November 2012 for BRL 140,000, and then sold in February 2014 for BRL 550,000, increasing in value by 292 percent — while property prices in the neighborhood only increased by 11 percent in the same period. Investigators highlighted a similar transaction involving an apartment in the same neighborhood, bought for BRL 170,000 in November 2012 and sold one year later for BRL 573,000 — generating BRL 403,000 (273 percent) in profit. Over the same 12-month span, property prices in the neighborhood rose by just 9 percent on average.</p> <p>Another case mentioned was the sale of property to a company headquartered in Panama. Between December 2008 and September 2010, Flávio Bolsonaro purchased 12 commercial properties in a complex in the Rio neighborhood Barra da Tijuca for BRL 2.6 million. They were sold in October 2010 for BRL 3.1 million to MCA Exportação e Participações. &#8220;Beyond the increase in value of the properties, what is striking is that the acquiring company has, among its shareholders, a company headquartered in Panama,&#8221; says the prosecutors&#8217; report.</p> <p>Investigators noted that &#8220;one of the most traditional methods of money laundering consists in transferring funds abroad by way of offshore companies.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="655" src="" alt="panama money laundering" class="wp-image-46098" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></figure> <h2>&#8216;Influence&#8217; on urban paramilitary gangs</h2> <p>With the evidence gathered, prosecutors decided to request a warrant for the arrest of Fabrício Queiroz and his wife. Beyond reports from the money laundering enforcement agency, the warrant request included bank statements, invoices, and footage of Mr. Queiroz making payments of Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s personal expenses. The former aide was found at a house in the city of Atibaia, north of São Paulo, belonging to lawyer Frederick Wassef, who <a href="">represented Jair and Flávio Bolsonaro</a> in several court cases. He repeatedly claimed he had no idea of the whereabouts of Mr. Queiroz, and soon left the service of the Bolsonaro family.</p> <p>Upon granting the warrant for Fabrício Queiroz&#8217;s arrest, judge Flávio Itabaiana wrote that the evidence provided by the prosecution service showed the &#8220;dangerousness&#8221; of the Bolsonaros&#8217; family friend, due to his &#8220;influence&#8221; over <a href="">Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s urban paramilitary mafias</a>, known locally as <em>milicias</em>. The judge referred to the fact that Mr. Queiroz was sought out by an unidentified man to solve a dispute between him and the mafia in the Rio de Janeiro district of Rio das Pedras. The region is controlled by a <a href="">paramilitary gang</a> which prosecutors believe was led by ex-police officer Adriano da Nóbrega, a friend of Mr. Queiroz who was <a href="">killed in February</a> during a police operation.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The judge also wrote that the information presented by the investigators showed that Mr. Queiroz, even in hiding, was able to &#8220;influence appointments for public positions, with his wife comparing him to a criminal &#8216;who is in jail and giving orders out here, sorting everything out.'&#8221; </p> <p>The statement by Márcia Aguiar was a comment made about an audio message leaked to newspaper O Globo, in which Fabrício Queiroz discusses the possibility of nominating individuals to posts in the House of Representatives and Senate. &#8220;There are over 500 jobs, man, in the House and Senate. You can appoint people to any committee, or something, without linking it to [the Bolsonaro family] at all,&#8221; he said, in the recording.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="655" src="" alt="obstruction of justice" class="wp-image-46100" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></figure> <h2>“Where is Queiroz?”</h2> <p>The persistent absences of Fabrício Queiroz after being summoned to provide clarifications gave rise to a slogan on social media and the streets of Brazil: &#8220;Where is Queiroz?&#8221; In justifying their client&#8217;s no-shows, Mr. Queiroz&#8217;s lawyers argued that he had to undergo surgery. In January 2019, he made his first public appearance in an interview to TV station SBT. Asked about the movements in his bank accounts, he claimed he bought and sold cars. He was then hospitalized for the removal of a malignant tumor in his intestine. That same month, he appeared in a video published on social media, smiling and dancing while on a hospital drip.</p> <p>In a letter sent to the courts, Fabrício Queiroz admitted that he kept a portion of the salaries of Flávio Bolsonaro&#8217;s staffers, but never clarified whether his boss was aware of the crime. In an audio recording leaked to the press in October 2019, Mr. Queiroz was heard complaining that no-one came to his defense. &#8220;The [prosecution service] has a d*** the size of a comet to bury inside us and I haven&#8217;t seen anyone act,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>The president&#8217;s eldest son has always denied committing any crimes. On the day his former aide was arrested, he said that the court order was &#8220;another attack&#8221; against his father, in an alleged plot to topple President Jair Bolsonaro.&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the case came to light, Flávio Bolsonaro has worked to disrupt the investigations, having already made ten attempts to have the case thrown out.

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Renato Alves

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

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