A Brazilian court has ordered that former President Jair Bolsonaro return jewellery he reportedly received from the government of Saudi Arabia as a gift when president.
The decision on Wednesday by Brazil’s federal audit court comes days after Brazilian police launched an investigation into an alleged attempt to illegally bring a set of jewellery, valued at more than $3.2 million, into the country.
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Those baubles, destined for the then-president and his wife Michelle, were intercepted in 2021 by customs officials. But authorities are hoping to recover a second set of jewellery, valued at an estimated $75,000, that is believed to have entered the country undetected.
Both sets of jewellery were reportedly offered as gifts by Saudi Arabia’s government.
Wednesday’s court order gives Bolsonaro five days to turn over any Saudi-offered jewellery in his possession, as well as two guns he received from the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
In addition, the order initiates an audit of all the official gifts Bolsonaro obtained during his presidency, which lasted from 2019 to 2022.
The court further declared that the seized $3.2m jewellery package would remain in custody at the presidential offices. Members of Bolsonaro’s administration had previously tried without success to release the jewellery while the far-right politician was in office.
The package includes a diamond necklace, ring, watch and earrings from the luxury Swiss jeweller Chopard. The jewellery had been discovered in the backpack of an aide to Bolsonaro’s energy minister, as the staffer returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia.
Under Brazilian law, public officials can only keep gifts that are “both highly personal and of minimal monetary value”, the court’s president Bruno Dantas said in the public hearing.
Travellers entering Brazil with goods worth more than $1,000 are also required to declare them and pay hefty import taxes.
Bolsonaro’s administration could have brought the items into the country tax-free as official gifts to the nation. However, they would have belonged to the presidential palace collection, not the president and his family.
Dantas said the presidential palace was “the rightful owner” of the items in question.
The issue has dominated headlines in Brazil since it was first reported in early March in the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper.
Last week, Justice Minister Flavio Dino announced a probe into the jewellery scandal, calling on police to explore whether Bolsonaro’s staff tried to cross the border “without complying with legal procedures” for government gifts or high-value items.
Bolsonaro has denied any involvement in illegal activity, telling CNN Brazil he was being “crucified” for a gift he neither requested nor received.
However, on Monday his lawyer acknowledged the second set of gifted jewellery, saying in a letter to police he would provide an account of those gifts.
Bolsonaro has been living in the US since late December, shortly before his successor, the left-wing politician Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was set to take office. Lula defeated Bolsonaro in a run-off election for the presidency in October.
Bolsonaro, however, has yet to concede defeat. He and his political allies have claimed without evidence that Brazil’s voting system was prone to fraud, leading some supporters to call for a military coup against Lula’s presidency.
Bolsonaro is being investigated for any involvement in a January 8 attack that saw his supporters storm key government buildings in the capital Brasília.