Brazilian judge orders arrest of Bolsonaro's ex-minister after Brasilia rampage

  • World
  • Tuesday, 10 Jan 2023

Supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro react, as buses leave the National Academy of the Federal Police after a camp set by supporters was dismounted in front of the Army Headquarters, in Brasilia, Brazil, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

BRASILIA (Reuters) -A Brazilian Supreme Court judge ordered the arrest on Tuesday of the capital's most recent public security chief after supporters of right-wing former President Jair Bolsonaro led a rampage through government buildings.

Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered the arrest of Anderson Torres, who was Bolsonaro's justice minister before taking over this month as the public security chief for Brasilia, where thousands of protesters vandalized the Supreme Court, Congress and presidential offices on Sunday.

Torres, who was removed from office on Sunday, was not in the city when the riots occurred, having flown to Florida earlier this month. In a post on Twitter on Tuesday, he said he would return to Brazil from Orlando, where he was vacationing with his family, and turn himself in to justice.

Moraes also requested the arrest of Fabio Augusto Vieira, the head of Brasilia's military police, one of a number of officials responsible for protecting the key Brasilia government buildings. Vieira could not immediately be reached for comment.

Details of the charges leveled against the pair weren't immediately clear.

In the arrest warrant, Moraes cited their failure to ensure proper security forces were in place. He also cited their authorization of the entrance into the city of more than 100 buses with Bolsonaro supporters on board, and their failure to close down a camp at which the former president's loyalists had been gathering for months.

"In such a sensitive moment for Brazilian democracy, in which anti-democratic protests are occurring all day long, with the occupation of military buildings across the country, and in Brasilia, one cannot use the excuse of ignorance or incompetence," Moraes said in the arrest order, previously disclosed to Reuters by a person familiar with the matter.

A Reuters witness spotted police at the Torres family residence in an upscale Brasilia neighborhood, where a resident said they left carrying bags.

Across town, police set about questioning over 1,000 protesters after they were detained as troops dismantled their camp opposite the army's headquarters.

Protesters at the camp had called for a military coup to overturn the October election in which leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated Bolsonaro.

Moraes, who is running investigations of the "anti-democratic" demonstrations, vowed in a speech on Tuesday to combat the "terrorists" calling for a coup.

Yet the challenge of carrying out such an enormous criminal investigation into a loosely organized pro-Bolsonaro movement in the first weeks of a new government was already beginning to show.

Opposition Senator Marcos do Val, who has denounced the Brasilia attack as a blunder for the political right, told journalists outside the gym where the detainees were being held that many of them "are paying for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

By late afternoon, 527 were arrested, while 599 detainees were released, most of them elderly people, mothers with children or people with health problems, said the police.

Around 200 other demonstrators were under arrest and awaiting charges in a penal facility for their role in Sunday's rampage, which vandalized some of the capital's most iconic buildings in the worst attack on Brazilian democracy in decades.


Investigations may also sprawl far beyond Brasilia. Pro-Bolsonaro militants discussed on social media their plans to disrupt highways and oil refineries to cause economic chaos in synch with their storming of the capital.

Brazilian energy company Eletrobras is investigating whether the collapse of two transmission towers was related to Sunday's violence in Brasilia, according to two sources familiar with the probe.

Eletrobras did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Its subsidiary, Eletronorte, released a statement on Monday about a fallen tower connecting rural communities in northern Brazil to the central grid, with "signs of sabotage."

The violence stunned Lula's government, which has been in office for barely a week, and could delay economic policy announcements that were planned for this week by an administration eager to show results.

On Monday night, Lula, who took office on Jan. 1, met with the head of the Supreme Court, congressional leaders and state governors in a show of national unity to condemn the riots.

Lula accused Bolsonaro's supporters of trying to overthrow democracy and questioned why the army had not discouraged calls for a military coup.

Bolsonaro, who flew to Florida 48 hours before his term ended, was released from an Orlando hospital where he had been admitted on Monday and was seen re-entering a residence late on Tuesday where he has been staying for most of his Florida trip.

It was not immediately clear whether Bolsonaro had met with Torres while in Florida.

Bolsonaro, 67, told CNN Brasil he may cut short his stay there due to his medical issues, returning to Brazil before the end of the month.

His son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, denied on Tuesday that the former president was responsible for the riots on Sunday.

"Since the election result he's been silent, licking his wounds, virtually incommunicado," he said in a session in the Senate.

Public prosecutors asked on Tuesday for a federal audit court to freeze the ex-president's assets in light of Sunday's vandalism – a move outside the traditional scope of that court.

(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier, Brad Brooks and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes, Aurora Ellis, Paul Simao and Kenneth Maxwell)

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