Brazil police raid presidential allies in fake news probe

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil’s federal police searched the homes and offices of allies of President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday in an investigation into alleged fake news attacks on social media against the country’s Supreme Court.

A police statement said the searches in six cities were authorized by the Supreme Court.

Criticism of the top court on social media last year led Chief Justice Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli to authorize the probe into an alleged fake news network. There have also been threats against Supreme Court justices.

Supporters of Bolsonaro have held demonstrations outside the Supreme Court calling for the closure of the court, which they see as blocking their far-right leader’s agenda. His critics say the president has encouraged the protests that threaten the constitutional separation of powers.

The police did not name the targets of the searches, but two sources with knowledge of the operation said they included Sao Paulo state legislature member Douglas Garcia of the right-wing PSL party, former congressman Roberto Jefferson and entrepreneur Luciano Hang, owner of the Havan retail chain.

Garcia, 26, a militant supporter of Bolsonaro, confirmed in a video posted on Twitter that police had been to his office in the state legislature and he was being investigated for criticism of Supreme Court justices.

“I am a lawmaker. I was elected to speak out, it is my constitutional right: I can criticize whoever I like,” said Garcia, who has joined protests outside the Supreme Court for blocking Bolsonaro’s bid to end social distancing and reopen an economy paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hang said on Facebook his cellular phone and his laptop had been seized by police when they searched his home and office.

“I never attacked or sent out fake news against the Supreme Court,” the businessman said on Facebook.

Reporting by Eduardo Simões, writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bernadette Baum