BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s supreme court on Thursday ordered Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors to temporarily suspend a probe into suspicious payments made by the former driver of President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, whose lawyers requested the injunction.
According to a copy of the ruling by Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux seen by Reuters, Flavio Bolsonaro’s lawyers argued that, as a senator-elect, he now enjoys certain legal protections, including that any case involving him should only be decided by the top court.
The case has clouded the first few weeks in office of Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who surged to victory on a promise to end years of political graft, vowing zero tolerance on those close to him found to be corrupt.
It also gives ammunition to critics who note that Bolsonaro and his politician sons have all regularly railed against the immunity from prosecution that politicians enjoy and now invoked by Flavio.
The scandal arose after Brazil’s Council for Financial Activities Control (COAF) identified 1.2 million reais ($305,000) that in 2016-17 flowed through the bank account of Fabricio Queiroz, a longtime driver to former state lawmaker Flavio. Some payments were made to the president’s wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.
Flavio Bolsonaro, his father and Queiroz have all said they are innocent of any crime.
Critics were quick to slam the ruling.
“There is no way to agree with this decision, which contradicts the Supreme Court’s own precedent,” federal prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, who leads Brazil’s “Car Wash” graft probe, wrote on Twitter.
Dallagnol added that he expected Fux’s decision would soon be overturned by another Supreme Court justice.
Flavio Bolsonaro and Queiroz have repeatedly failed to show up to explain the payments to state prosecutors, with Queiroz citing health problems.
Most recently, Flavio Bolsonaro said last week that he would not meet with prosecutors as planned because he had only been given a few days notice of the appointment. He promised to arrange a new time.
“As I am not being investigated, I have not yet had access to the records,” he wrote on Facebook at the time. “I hereby undertake to schedule a day and time to present the duly substantiated explanations ... so that there is no doubt about my conduct.”
Jair Bolsonaro, who took power on Jan. 1, has said the payment to his wife was Queiroz repaying a personal loan.
Flavio Bolsonaro has said that Queiroz gave him a “plausible” explanation, and that the accusations were intended to destabilize the Bolsonaro family.
In a TV interview late last month, Queiroz said the money in his account was from a side-business of buying and selling cars.
“I’m a businessman,” he said. “I make money.”
According to COAF, some of the payments to Queiroz’ bank account were made by other employees on Flavio Bolsonaro’s payroll when he served as a state lawmaker, including by Queiroz’s own daughter. Many of the deposits were made on or around the same day the employees were paid, COAF found.
Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Brad Brooks and Sonya Hepinstall