SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian police on Thursday arrested a former aide to President Jair Bolsonaro’s eldest son in a graft investigation threatening to undermine the far-right leader and ratchet up his battle with the judiciary.
Fabricio Queiroz, who worked with Senator Flavio Bolsonaro when he was a Rio de Janeiro state lawmaker, was arrested outside Sao Paulo in a home owned by a personal lawyer for the Bolsonaro family, according to prosecutors.
Investigators sought Queiroz for questioning over more than 1.2 million reais ($230,000) in bank transactions in a suspected scheme to embezzle the salaries of phantom employees in the Rio state assembly. The senator has denied any wrongdoing and called the investigation a political attack on his family.
“I face today’s events with tranquility. The truth will prevail!” Senator Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter after the arrest of Queiroz. “Another piece on the playing board was moved to attack Bolsonaro … It’s a brutal game!”
Queiroz’s lawyer, Paulo Emilio Catta Preta, said his client’s arrest was “totally unnecessary” and ruled out him making a plea deal.
Speaking later Thursday on Facebook Live, the president said Queiroz had not been in hiding but was targeted for a “spectacular” arrest, as if he were “the greatest thug on earth.”
He added that he had no ties to the case.
Two sources told Reuters that Bolsonaro, earlier in the day, had summoned officials including Justice Minister Andre Mendonca and the secretary-general of the presidency, Jorge Oliveira, to coordinate a response to the arrest.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, ran for office in 2018 pledging to get tough on crime and end decades of political corruption exposed by Brazil’s notorious Car Wash graft investigation.
Since then, critics allege he has backpedaled on his push to clean up politics. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has engaged in an increasingly fraught power tussle with Brazil’s Supreme Court that has sparked fears among opposition politicians and others for the constitutional integrity of the country.
Former federal judge Sergio Moro, who oversaw the Car Wash probe and joined Bolsonaro’s government last year, quit in April and accused the president of meddling in police appointments for personal reasons, triggering a federal investigation.
The Queiroz case has hung like a dark cloud over Bolsonaro’s presidency, raising awkward questions about his and his son’s political past in the rough-and-tumble world of Rio politics. Before becoming president, Bolsonaro represented the state as a federal lawmaker for nearly three decades.
(Reporting by Eduardo Simões and Leonardo Benassato; Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Brad Haynes, Alistair Bell and Tom Brown)