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After conceding defeat on Tuesday and pledging to “respect the Constitution”, the future of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is paved with uncertainty. According to specialists, the risk of imprisonment is very real.
“I have three possibilities for the future: to be imprisoned, to be dead or victorious”, had launched Jair Bolsonaro in August 2021, more than a year before his defeat against Lula in the presidential election. “You can be sure that the first option (prison) does not exist,” the far-right president said during a meeting with evangelicals.
However, analysts consider that this risk of imprisonment is very real, even if the procedures could take years.
Loss of presidential immunity
Since the beginning of his mandate, President Bolsonaro has been the target of several investigations, in particular for disinformation, and more than 150 requests for impeachment – most linked to his management of the Covid-19 crisis, responsible for at least 685 000 deaths in Brazil.
These threats to shorten his mandate were dismissed by two key allies: Attorney General Augusto Aras, who refrained from launching any formal accusation against the Head of State, and the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Arthur Lira, who refused to follow up on the impeachment requests.
But the deal will change from 1er January: when Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is invested with the supreme office, Jair Bolsonaro will lose his presidential immunity.
He can then be judged by courts of first instance, and not only by the Supreme Court. Brazilian justice is already taking a close interest in the affairs of the Bolsonaro family.
respond to justice
At the end of 2020, the prosecution requested the indictment of the president’s eldest son, Flavio Bolsonaro, for embezzlement and money laundering. Now a senator, he was then suspected of “rachadinha” – when employees of an elected official’s office paid by the state donate part of their salary to their employer.
The case was finally dismissed last May, when a higher court found that the investigation had violated his parliamentary immunity – by lifting, among other things, his banking secrecy.
But a series of reports from the Uol news site showed that the prosecution had strong indications that the practice of “rachadinha” was widespread in the Bolsonaro family, and that it concerned Jair himself, who was MP 27 years before taking the presidency.
“When the presidential mandate ends, Jair Bolsonaro will be able to respond to common justice and the prosecution will be able to open new investigations”, assures the jurist Rogério Dultra dos Santos, of the Federal University Fluminense.
The president has always denied any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of “political persecution”, including when Uol recently revealed that members of his family had acquired 51 properties paid for in whole or in part in cash from 1990 to 2022, for a total amount approaching 4.8 million euros.
During his mandate, President Bolsonaro sealed for 100 years a quantity of documents, official or personal, which could prove to be compromising.
“Lula has already promised that he will allow access to these documents if he is elected. If he does, it could have legal consequences,” said Rogério Dultra dos Santos, who is a member of the Brazilian Association. Lawyers for Democracy (ABHD).
These documents could contain, for example, revelations about interference by evangelical pastors in the budget of the Ministry of Education.
Rogerio Dultra dos Santos nevertheless stresses that the procedures could “take several years”, with multiple appeals which delay any possibility of imprisonment.
Jair Bolsonaro could benefit from a Supreme Court ruling that freed Lula after 18 months in prison on corruption charges.
Withdrawing from political life?
In November 2019, the left-wing ex-president was released after this high court ruled that a defendant could only be imprisoned once all his appeals had been judged, and no longer only after a first conviction on appeal. .
Beyond the legal questions, Jair Bolsonaro had made surprising remarks three weeks before the election, saying that he intended to “stay back” from political life in the event of defeat.
“I would be very surprised if he gave up politics. I see him rather as a Trump-like destiny, who retains considerable influence on American politics despite his defeat in 2020,” said Mayra Goulart, political scientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
“It is an honor to be the leader of millions of Brazilians”, Moreover, said Tuesday Jair Bolsonaro during his speech, after celebrating the fact that “the right has really emerged” in Brazil under his mandate.