Bolsonaro assistant accused of selling gifts from foreign dignitaries; Brazil’s former president also under suspicion

By August 13, 2023

São Paulo, Brazil – Lieutenant Colonel Mauro Cid, former President Jair Bolsonaro’s assistant and trusted confidant, was the subject of a Federal Police investigation on Friday involving the alleged illegal sale of luxury gifts given to Brazil’s former president by foreign dignitaries, including expensive watches and ornate statues. In Brazil, gifts of significant value given to government officials belong to the state and must be registered. 

Cid’s father, Army General Mauro Lourena Cid, and Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Frederick Wassef, were also targeted by the investigation. 

The younger Cid has been in prison since May, accused of falsifying Covid-19 vaccination cards for Bolsonaro and his daughter to travel to the United States in 2022. On Friday, Federal Police conducted searches at addresses linked to Cid and his father. 

According to investigators, the two participated in a scheme to sell gifts given by Arab leaders to Bolsonaro during official trips throughout his presidency (2019 to 2022). The scheme could have generated profits up to R$1 million (USD $200,000).

Under Brazilian law, a gift received by a president on an official trip does not belong to him, but to the Brazilian state. The president is only allowed to keep what are called “very personal gifts,” meaning small items of little monetary value, like flags and letters. Any object of value must be registered and included into the public collection.

According to the police, some of the gifts Bolsonaro received during his term were never registered nor entered the public collection. Investigators say that Cid was responsible for negotiating the sale of some of the items, and they suspect that the profits were passed on to Bolsonaro. 

Evidence reported by investigators suggests that some of the negotiations were conducted online, mainly via email.

Bolsonaro assistant tried to sell jewelry kit received from Saudi Arabia. Image courtesy of Federal Police

Sold! Two watches for $68,000

Police reported that two luxury watches suspected to be linked to Bolsnaro were sold to a U.S. company in 2022 for USD $68,000. When police began to suspect that the watches may have been sold illegally, the Federal Audit Court (TCU), the entity responsible for monitoring public spending, ordered, in March 2023, Bolsonaro to return the gifts to their custody until the end of the investigation.

Cid attempted to “buy back” the watches. Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Frederick Wassef, traveled to the United States in March to recover the objects. Police reported that Wassef had to pay above the original selling price to get the watches back.  

According to the Federal Police, “The purpose of selling the watches was the illicit enrichment of former president Jair Bolsonaro … It was identified that the amounts obtained from these sales were converted into cash and entered the personal assets of the former president.”

On Cid’s cell phone, investigators found conversations detailing delivering funds to Bolsonaro. In one of the messages, Cid said, “My father has USD $25,000 with him. I was seeing what was best to do with the money. My father wanted to talk to the president, give him a hug and he could take the money, hand it over. But he can also deposit into the account. I think the less movement in the account, the better.”

Investigators allege those involved knew it was wrong

In a different conversation, Cid complained to another Bolsonaro assistant about demands he’d received from the presidential documentation office about registering luxury gifts, lamenting that he wouldn’t be able to sell some items valued at USD $120,000.

“It’s just a shame because we are talking about USD $120,000 hahahaha,” Cid wrote. 

Supreme Court Judge Alexandre de Moraes, who authorized the warrants to investigate both of the Cids and Wassef, said that the conversations seized by investigators show that Cid knew the scheme was illegal. 

“Cid was fully aware of the legal restrictions on the sale of the items abroad,” said Moraes.

Investigators also allege that Bolsonaro himself carried out actions in the scheme while in office. The former president allegedly flew to the U.S. on December 30, two days before the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, carrying two sets of jewelry and a set of statues. 

The statues, of a boat and palm tree, were allegedly gifted to Bolsonaro on a trip to Bahrain in 2021. A set of Chopard jewelry, including a pen, a ring, a buttonhole, an Arabic rosary and a watch, was allegedly given to the former president by Saudi Arabia. 

Investigators say that the jewelry kit was announced by a luxury auction company in New York in January, with an estimated value of between USD $120,000 and $140,000. The jewels were not sold however, and Cid reportedly organized a “rescue” operation to retrieve the items from the auction house, and then mailed them to his father’s home Florida. 

A reflection is worth a thousand words

The palm tree statue received from Bahrain resulted in one of the most damning pieces of evidence against the alleged conspirators. Cid’s father allegedly received the statue at his home in Florida and took pictures of it to organize the sale. However, he appears in the box’s reflection, which facilitated the police investigation and, according to investigators, leaves no doubt of the general’s involvement in the scheme. 

“In one of the photos sent by General Lourena Cid, it is possible to see the reflection of his face in the box,” said the Federal Police. The investigation points out that Mauro Cid was unable to sell the boat and palm tree statues, as they were not made of gold. In a conversation with another Bolsonaro assistant, Cid complained about the frustrated sale.

General Lourena Cid’s reflection in the palm statue’s box; he took the photo to announce the sale of the object. Image courtesy of Federal Police

“Those two pieces I brought from Brazil, they are not gold. They have parts of gold, but they are not all gold. So, I am not able to sell [them],” he said. Cid also added that Bolsonaro did not want to keep the statues “because they are worthless.”

According to police, the statues were sent to several specialized stores in the U.S. for evaluations as well as to attempt to sell them to the stores, however, “since [the set of statues] did not have the monetary value expected by those investigated, the attempts to sell were frustrated, leaving the items under the custody of Lourena Cid.”

Police dubbed Friday’s operation “Luke 12:2” in reference to the Bible verse that says, “There is nothing hidden that will not be discovered, or hidden that will not be known.”