President Jair Bolsonaro’s government warned Friday that Brazil’s “national security” would be at risk if investigators granted a request to seize the far-right leader’s cell phone in an obstruction of justice investigation.
The request to seize Bolsonaro’s phone and that of his son Carlos was made by opposition parties in Congress, part of a probe into allegations by former justice minister Sergio Moro that the president tried to interfere in federal police investigations.
The probe, which could see Bolsonaro put on trial or even impeached, comes as the president faces growing disapproval ratings 18 months into his term and criticism over his downplaying of the coronavirus pandemic, which has now claimed more than 20,000 lives in Brazil.
Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello, who is in charge of the probe, passed the phone seizure request on to the attorney general’s office, which will have the final say in the matter.
Bolsonaro’s government quickly hit back, furiously condemning what it called “unacceptable interference in the executive branch, the president’s privacy and the country’s institutional security.”
“This would have unforeseeable consequences for national stability,” said the statement, which was signed by National Security Minister Augusto Heleno.
The ominous tone from Heleno, a powerful retired army general, was widely taken as a threat in a country still scarred by the legacy of a brutal military regime that seized power in 1964 and ruled until 1985.
Bolsonaro, who was an army captain at the time, is openly nostalgic for the dictatorship.
The case goes back to April 24, when Moro, a popular anti-corruption crusader, resigned over Bolsonaro’s decision to fire federal police chief Mauricio Valeixo.
Moro accused Bolsonaro of improper “political interference” in the police’s work, leading Mello to order an investigation into whether the president committed obstruction of justice or other crimes.
Moro says he exchanged text messages with Bolsonaro in which the president pressured him to replace top federal police commanders.
Investigators have also been reviewing a video of a cabinet meeting in which the president allegedly pressured Moro to give him inside information on ongoing investigations.
Police are reportedly investigating multiple cases involving Bolsonaro and his inner circle, including allegations that Carlos Bolsonaro, a Rio de Janeiro city councilor, oversaw a fake-news campaign to benefit his father.