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Tuesday, April 28, 2020, 21:46
Court okays Bolsonaro probe for alleged interference with police
By Reuters
Tuesday, April 28, 2020, 21:46 By Reuters

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro talks to supporters as he leaves Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil on April 6, 2020. (EVARISTO SA / AFP)

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO - A Supreme Court judge on Monday authorized an investigation of allegations that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro tried to interfere in the work of the country’s federal police force for political motives, the top court said on its website.

Bolsonaro called the accusations unfounded, but they have set off the worst political crisis since he took office in January last year and lost the far-right leader valuable allies 

Justice Celso de Mello gave the federal police 60 days to carry out the investigation requested by Brazil’s chief public prosecutor Augusto Aras following the accusations made by former justice minister Sergio Moro, who resigned on Friday.

Bolsonaro has appointed André Mendonça as the new Justice Minister, replacing Moro who resigned last Friday after accusing his boss of wrongdoing, according to the official gazette on Tuesday.

Mendonça, 47, previously served as Brazil’s attorney general and was once considered for a nomination to the Brazilian Supreme Court.

As attorney general, Mendonça is credited with recovering some 7.5 billion reais (US$1.33 billion) from companies accused of corruption by means of leniency deals, whereby the firms agree to cooperate with the probe.

Alexandre Ramagem, former head of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin), was named federal police chief, replacing Mauricio Valeixo, according to the publication. Bolsonaro dismissed Valeixo last Friday.

Moro said Bolsonaro had pressed him to change the chief of the federal police and accused the president of seeking to interfere in investigations that involved family members, to the point of requesting intelligence files.

Bolsonaro called the accusations unfounded, but they have set off the worst political crisis since he took office in January last year and lost the far-right leader valuable allies. 

ALSO READ: Brazil's Bolsonaro denies interfering in federal police

The investigation comes at a bad moment for Bolsonaro who is facing criticism for downplaying the gravity of the coronavirus epidemic that has killed over 4,500 people in the country and virtually paralyzed Latin America’s largest economy.

An indictment of the president would have to be approved by the lower house of Congress before a trial could move ahead in the Supreme Court. The house is however dominated by Bolsonaro’s supporters and it is unlikely to approve an indictment.

If he is indicted, the president would be suspended and Vice President Hamilton Mourao takes over his position temporarily for up to 180 days. If convicted in a trial, he would lose office.

Based on the results of the police investigation, the public prosecutor will have to decide whether to press charges against the president or his former minister.

A poll conducted on Monday showed that a majority of Brazilians believe Moro’s accusations are true. Forty six percent believe Bolsonaro should resign, while 50 percent who think he should not.

Pollster Datafolha found that 52 percent believed Moro was telling the truth and only 20 percent said they believed Bolsonaro’s account.

However, Brazilians are also divided about impeaching their president with 48 percent opposed to impeaching Bolsonaro while 45 percent wanted to see him impeached, a difference within the margin of error of the poll.

A main reason for discontent with Bolsonaro has been his handling of the coronavirus epidemic, whose gravity he has downplayed as the death toll rises in Brazil. The poll found 45 percent consider his handling bad or terrible against 27 percent who think he has done a good or excellent job. 

READ MORE: Brazil's Bolsonaro isolated, weakened by coronavirus denial

Datafolha polled 1,503 people by telephone on Monday. The poll has a margin of error of three percentage points up or down

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