Jan 8 investigation targets nephew of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro

Leonardo Rodrigues de Jesus is the first member of Bolsonaro’s family to be probed in relation to the January 8 attack.

Security forces fire a weapon during protests in Brasilia on January 8, 2023.
Security forces attempt to disperse supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro as they storm government buildings in Brasilia on January 8, 2023 [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Federal police in Brazil have announced that the nephew of former President Jair Bolsonaro is under investigation in connection with the January 8 attack on government buildings in Brasilia.

Leonardo Rodrigues de Jesus, also known as Leo Índio, is the first member of Bolsonaro’s family to be publicly targeted in the investigations.

His home was searched in a series of raids on Friday, part of an ongoing inquiry into the perpetrators behind the attack, which was led by pro-Bolsonaro supporters.

“Today, the Federal Police are carrying out 11 preventive arrest warrants and 27 search and seizure warrants against coup plotters and terrorists,” Brazil’s Justice Minister Flávio Dino posted on Twitter on Friday. “The authority of the law is greater than the extremists.”

On January 8, de Jesus posted photos and videos from the Three Powers Plaza in Brasilia, where hundreds of far-right demonstrators had converged to protest the inauguration of left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva one week prior.

Some of the protesters had called for the military to restore Bolsonaro to power, following his defeat in a tight October run-off against Lula. The mob pushed past security barricades, storming buildings that represent three branches of government — Congress, the Supreme Court and the Planalto presidential palace — and causing significant damage.

In a selfie posted to his social media, de Jesus stands red-eyed amid the protesters, a fact he attributes to tear gas. He accused the police of targeting the demonstrators, writing: “Look for the real hooligans and also the cowards disguised as patriots.”

Officials have called the events of January 8 the worst attack on Brazil’s government since its return to democracy in the 1980s.

Brazil’s Supreme Court, led by Justice Alexandre de Moraes, has since issued warrants to search the homes and offices belonging to a range of individuals, including Ibaneis Rocha, the governor of Brasilia, whom de Moraes has placed on a 90-day suspension.

The federal police have previously said the raids are aimed at identifying those “who participated in, funded or fostered” the anti-democracy protests. Eventual charges could include crimes against democracy and criminal association.

Dino, the justice minister, has applauded the police investigations, calling the protest participants “coup-mongers”.

De Jesus had previously used his platform on social media to share false information about the October presidential election and the far-right protests, including the baseless claim that the events of January 8 were infiltrated by violent leftists.

In 2022, de Jesus also ran for public office, losing his campaign to become a Federal District councillor.

He has, however, maintained personal and professional relationships with Bolsonaro and his sons, particularly Carlos Bolsonaro, a city council member for Rio de Janeiro and head of his father’s digital operations.

Carlos Bolsonaro had hired de Jesus as an aide in Rio de Janeiro, before de Jesus moved to Brasilia. There, de Jesus took positions as part of a senator’s cabinet team and as an adviser to Bolsonaro’s conservative Liberal Party in the Senate.

He lost his position, however, after media reports revealed that he served as a “phantom employee”, collecting paycheques but failing to show up for work.

Since 2021, officials in Rio de Janeiro have also been investigating de Jesus after allegations surfaced that Flavio Bolsonaro — another one of the sons of the former president — had transferred money to de Jesus from his cabinet on the city council. De Jesus also allegedly received public funds for his rent.

Brazil’s Supreme Court has requested that de Jesus be put in preventive detention for his role in the January 8 attack, but police have not arrested him so far. De Jesus has declared he lacks the money to pay for his lawyers to appeal the order.

Friday’s raids are the latest broadside in an ongoing series of measures designed to dismantle anti-government forces in Brazil.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes fined the messaging platform Telegram 1.2 million Brazilian reais ($234,865) for failing to suspend accounts linked to misinformation among pro-Bolsonaro supporters, as mandated by a court order.

And on January 21, Lula dismissed an army chief, General Julio Cesar de Arruda, for failing to obey government orders to clear a camp of pro-Bolsonaro supporters who participated in the January 8 attack.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies