Brazil steps up pressure on Bolsonaro with probe into Jan. 8 riots, minister’s arrest

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Brazilian authorities are increasing the pressure on Jair Bolsonaro with a probe into the former president’s role in riots that upended the nation’s capital on January 8 and the arrest of his Justice Minister Anderson Torres by federal police.

Torres was arrested on Saturday after arriving in Brasilia following a vacation in the US.

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The former minister, whose arrest was ordered by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, has denied any involvement in the attacks that damaged government buildings and tested the leadership of new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Rodrigo Roca, a lawyer for Torres, didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

A day earlier, Moraes also accepted a request by Brazilian prosecutors to probe Bolsonaro for the alleged incitement of the insurrection.

In his decision, the justice mentioned a video that was posted and later deleted by Bolsonaro containing conspiracy theories about electoral fraud, allegations that were repeated by protesters who stormed the presidential palace, congress and the top court buildings last Sunday.

Bolsonaro was defeated by Lula during the October 30 vote that was the tightest presidential runoff in Brazil’s recent history. While the victory was certified by Brazil’s electoral authority and deemed credible by the international community, the former president’s supporters have refused to accept the outcome and staged widespread protests, culminating with the insurrection in Brasilia earlier this month.

“It’s another step that materializes the legal risks surrounding Bolsonaro,” said Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at Sao Paulo-based consulting firm Tendencias.

Recent developments “could also affect how the Bolsonarismo will operate under the Lula administration, which in turn needs to build a coalition in Congress with political parties that supported Bolsonaro’s agenda.”

In addition to arresting thousands of rioters, officials are also trying to map out who has helped fund the attacks.

Prosecutors are seeking to freeze of Bolsonaro’s assets and identified more than 100 companies suspected of having financed the protesters.

With the pressure on Bolsonaro growing, the former president must now decide whether to return to Brazil from the US. He traveled to Florida right before his term ended and did not attend Lula’s inauguration.

Earlier this week, he told CNN Brasil that he had initially intended to stay in the US until the end of the month but will cut his vacation short to return.

Bolsonaro’s recent actions were the latest in a series of occasions when he acted “in a criminal way and against institutions,” Moraes wrote in his decision to greenlight the probe against the former president Friday.

Bolsonaro’s lawyer has said the former leader had no ties to the riots and did not participate in them.

The arrest of Torres will also ratchet up the scrutiny on Bolsonaro and his supporters. On Tuesday, Brazil’s Federal Police found at Torres’ home a draft of a decree to unconstitutionally change the outcome of the October elections.

The former justice minister wrote on his Twitter account that the document was probably among piles of papers that would have been discarded.

After the transfer of power to Lula on January 1, Torres had been appointed Secretary of Public Security of the Federal District, but was dismissed by Governor Ibaneis Rocha after less than a week. Hours after the dismissal, Moraes also suspended Rocha from his post for 90 days while his role in the riots is being investigated.

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