Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro targeted in police operation investigating coup attempt

By February 8, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday was the target of a Federal Police operation to investigate an attempted coup d’état to keep him in power despite his defeat in the 2022 elections. 

By order of the Supreme Court, Bolsonaro must hand over his passport to the police within 24 hours and is prohibited from having any contact with the other people being investigated in the case.

Through social media, one of Bolsonaro’s lawyers, Fabio Wajngarten, confirmed that the former president will hand over his passport. He said that Bolsonaro had already ordered his direct assistant, who is also a target of the operation and was with the former president at the time, to leave his residence and return to the capital Brasília, following the order not to maintain contact with the other suspects. 

In total, the Federal Police carried out 33 search warrants and four arrest warrants this Thursday. The targets, in addition to Bolsonaro, are his former ministers and former advisors, the president of Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL), and 16 army soldiers. 

Federal Police headquarters in Brasília, where investigations into the coup attempt are concentrated. Image courtesy of Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

The four arrest warrants are for a former Bolsonaro advisor, a major and two colonels from the Brazilian Army. According to the police, those under investigation allegedly spread false information about Brazil’s electoral system in an attempt to legitimize a coup and a military intervention in the elections.  

The suspects were divided into six groups to organize and plan the coup attempt, such as a group to encourage soldiers to participate in the coup, another to spread disinformation and attacks on the electoral system, in addition to an operational group to support coup acts, like the camps set up by Bolsonaro supporters in front of Army barracks.

The police believe that the suspects, by spreading fake news and raising suspicions about the electoral system, led to the acts of vandalism on January 8. On that day, around 4,000 Bolsonaro supporters invaded and destroyed the buildings of federal government, Congress and Supreme Court in protest against his defeat in the election.

Draft of the coup

According to the police, Bolsonaro allegedly received a draft decree from two former advisors to carry out a coup d’état. The original version of the document provided for the arrest of two Supreme Court judges and the president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco.

The investigation indicates that Bolsonaro ordered changes to the document to exclude some arrests, such as that of the president of the Senate, but maintaining the order to arrest Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes, who is responsible for investigations into antidemocratic acts.

Also, the draft of the coup provided for government interference in the justice system and the holding of new presidential elections.

Much of the information was handed over to the police by Bolsonaro’s former assistant and right-hand man, Lieutenant Colonel Mauro Cid, who signed a collaboration agreement with the authorities.

Cid was arrested in 2023 on suspicion of involvement in many illicit schemes under Bolsonaro’s government, such as the illegal sale of jewelry received from foreign countries and the falsification of Bolsonaro and his daughter’s Covid-19 vaccination card.

After spending months in prison, Cid decided to help the investigations and delivered messages, documents and recordings that indicate the planning of a coup even before the October 2022 election.

The four targets of arrest warrants are:

  • Filipe Martins, former special advisor to Bolsonaro
  • Marcelo Câmara, Army reserve Colonel and former special advisor to Bolsonaro
  • Rafael Martins de Oliveira, Major of the Army Special Forces
  • Bernardo Romão Correa Neto, Army Colonel who was not arrested because he is in the United States

Among the targets of search warrants are:

  • Braga Netto, Army General and former Minister of Defense and Civil House
  • Augusto Heleno, Army General and former head of the Institutional Security Office (GSI)
  • Paulo Sérgio Nogueira, Army General and former Minister of Defense
  • Estevam Cals Theóphilo Gaspar de Oliveira, Army General and former head of the Army’s Land Operations Command
  • Almir Garnier Santos, Navy Admiral and former commander-general of the Navy
  • Anderson Torres, former Minister of Justice
  • Valdemar Costa Neto, president of PL, Bolsonaro’s party
  • Tercio Arnoud Thomaz, former advisor to Bolsonaro
  • Ailton Barros, retired Army Colonel

Illegal gun

The president of Bolsonaro’s party, Valdemar da Costa Neto, was arrested while the police were searching his home, because he had an illegal gun. The gun found in Costa’s house had expired documentation and was registered in the name of the his son.

The party chaired by Costa is the largest opposition party to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government and has the largest number of federal deputies (99 out of a total of 513).