Shortly after narrowly losing his reelection bid in the Brazilian elections last October, former President Jair Bolsonaro relocated to Florida. He spent months living a retiree’s American Dream—and avoiding a raft of criminal inquiries—before returning home in March. Now, Brazil’s federal police are looking into whether Bolsonaro, his family members, and close aides falsified their Covid-19 vaccination status in order to enter the United States.
On Wednesday, the police conducted a search at Bolsonaro’s address in the capital and seized his cell phone as part of a probe into an alleged “criminal association” to introduce false information into the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 data system. The officers also carried out the arrests of several of the former president’s associates, including security guards and an aide-de-camp. The alterations, which were made between November 2021 and December 2022 and later deleted from the database, would have allowed the beneficiaries of the changed vaccine certificates, including Bolsonaro and his 12-year-old daughter, to circumvent US public health rules requiring foreigners to be vaccinated. Bolsonaro traveled to the United States on his second to last day as president, but because he wasn’t on official state business, he would not have qualified for exemptions granted to diplomatic and government officials. The former president was aware of the fraudulent scheme, according to the police.
The operation is part of a broader probe into pro-Bolsonaro groups spreading election disinformation and organizing anti-democratic acts. The investigation has been authorized by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes and dubbed Venire, a reference to a Latin maxim that “no one may set himself in contradiction to his own previous conduct.”
A longtime vaccine skeptic, Bolsonaro oversaw Brazil’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic, spreading misinformation, dismissing protective measures, and delaying the purchase of vaccines. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, he denied any wrongdoing. “I was never asked for a vaccination card [to enter the United States],” he said. “There is no fraud on my part. I didn’t take the vaccine, period.” Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle, tweeted that only she had been vaccinated in their household.
In a statement, the police said the fraudulent actions were motivated by an “ideological agenda” with the goal of sustaining “the rhetoric regarding their attacks on the coronavirus vaccine.” Other potential offenses include infringement of public health rules and the corruption of minors.
In Brazil, hashtags like “Big Day” and posts saying “Bolsonaro arrested tomorrow” are trending on Twitter. Meanwhile, the former president took his grievances to a right-wing outlet. With a choked voice, Bolsonaro said he “got emotional because messing with him was no problem, but when it goes to wife and kids, it’s inhumane.”
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— Cris (@crisvector) May 3, 2023