President Jair Bolsonaro lashed out Friday at a police raid targeting businessmen accused of plotting a coup if he is not reelected, saying free speech was under attack and that Brazil is “on the road to dictatorship.”
Several prominent pro-Bolsonaro businessmen including billionaire department store mogul Luciano Hang were targeted by federal police raids Tuesday after a media report said they had discussed a potential coup if the far-right president does not win in Brazil’s October elections.
Bolsonaro said the authorities had “nothing” on the eight businessmen, and that the investigation was a bid to muzzle his supporters.
“Brazil is on the road to dictatorship. This is how dictatorships start now. You lose (your freedom) little by little, then one day you look and you’re completely tied up,” he told radio network Jovem Pan.
Hang, the owner of retail chain Havan and a vocal Bolsonaro backer with millions of followers on social media, accused the authorities of censorship, saying his Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok accounts had been blocked.
“They can take away my social networks, but they’ll never shut me up!” said Hang, who has an estimated fortune of $4.8 billion, according to Forbes, built on an empire of department stores known for displaying giant replicas of the Statue of Liberty out front.
“Say no to censorship! You could be next,” he posted Thursday on his Twitter account — which was blocked for users in Brazil.
News site Metropoles reported last week that a WhatsApp messenger group including Hang and other business leaders had “openly defended a coup” if Bolsonaro loses to leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT), who leads in the polls.
The report cited leaked messages in which group members said they “prefer a coup to the return of the PT” and that “the victims’ blood will become the blood of heroes.”
Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes, the new head of Brazil’s top electoral tribunal and a frequent target of Bolsonaro’s attacks, directed federal police to execute search warrants reportedly targeting several of the businessmen.
Moraes also reportedly ordered their social media and bank accounts blocked.
Hang, 59, confirmed he had been targeted.
Other targets reportedly included Meyer Joseph Nigri, chairman and former CEO of property developer Tecnisa; Jose Isaac Peres, founder of shopping mall company Multiplan; and Afranio Barreira Filho, owner of restaurant chain Coco Bambu.
Several of those named, including Hang, denied planning a coup.