A news outlet reported that in October 2021, jewelry worth more than $3 million was discovered in the backpack of a former assistant.
The government of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has ordered a police investigation into allegations that government officials under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, tried to bring millions of dollars worth of jewelry into the country.
Justice Minister Flávio Dino announced the investigation on Monday, calling on police to investigate whether Bolsonaro staff tried to cross the border “without complying with legal procedures” for government gifts or valuables.
The announcement follows a report in the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo that a former aide attempted to bring $3.2 million worth of jewelry into the country without declaring it, as a gift from the Saudi Arabian government to Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle.
Customs officials allegedly seized the jewelry from the backpack of a government employee who returned from Saudi Arabia in October 2021 while Bolsonaro was still in office. According to Friday’s newspaper report, the backpack contained a diamond necklace, a ring, a watch and earrings designed by Chopard, a luxury Swiss jeweler.
On Saturday, Bolsonaro denied any involvement in illegal activities. He told CNN Brazil that he was “crucified” for a gift he neither asked nor received.
A current cabinet member called the incident an act of “smuggling”. In Brazil, any item entering the country worth more than $1,000 is subject to taxes. Critics also say the jewelry, as a gift to the state, should have been documented and handed over to the government as part of the presidential collection.
The former aide had traveled to Riyadh with Bento Albuquerque, Bolsonaro’s energy minister.
On Sunday, the Folha de S Paulo newspaper reported that another member of the Albuquerque delegation carried a second package of Chopard jewelry donated by Saudi Arabia, including a pen, cufflinks, a ring and a rosary. The newspaper states that this consignment of luxury items has not been discovered by the authorities.
On Monday, Brazil’s Federal Tax Agency also announced it would investigate whether the transportation of the second package of jewelry violated customs laws.
The jewels allegations add to a growing list of scandals and possible legal troubles facing Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former far-right president.
Bolsonaro was narrowly defeated in his bid for a second term in a runoff election in October 2022, with leftist Lula finishing first in the race.
In the run-up to the vote, Bolsonaro spread false claims that Brazil’s voting system had been rigged against him, raising the alarm that he would not abide by the results of the election.
He has yet to admit defeat and left for the United States two days before the end of his tenure. In early January, his supporters stormed key government buildings in the Brazilian capital, calling for a military coup to oust Lula from power.
In Brazil, it is currently being investigated whether he played a role in inciting the attack.