The investigation into Jair Bolsonaro took a new twist on Friday with the release of an explosive video, which showed the Brazilian president apparently admitting he tried to protect his family from being “screwed” by police investigations.
Mr Bolsonaro is currently facing a formal judicial inquiry triggered by claims from Sergio Moro, his former justice minister, that the president was interfering in police investigations.
Mr Moro claimed that Mr Bolsonaro had attempted to change the federal police chief in Rio de Janeiro, where one of the president’s sons is currently facing investigation for alleged corruption, which he denies.
On Friday the supreme court released a video from a ministerial meeting last month during which Mr Bolsonaro said: “I will not wait for my family or friends to get screwed because I cannot change one of our law enforcement officials.”
He added: “I already tried to change the security guys in Rio de Janeiro officially, but wasn’t able.”
The supreme court had sought the video from the government after Mr Moro made his allegations.
Mr Bolsonaro denies putting pressure on Brazil’s federal police — an agency roughly equivalent to the FBI in the US — and insists his words have been misinterpreted.
If an indictment against the president is made — and accepted by Congress — Mr Bolsonaro would be removed from office for 180 days while impeachment motions are tabled.
Eloísa Machado, a law scholar at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, said: “The video clearly shows Bolsonaro saying that he would interfere with the federal police to prevent family members and friends from being investigated.
“In my opinion, with this video, there is already enough evidence to start a criminal case.”
Raising further concerns about his democratic credentials, in the same video Mr Bolsonaro also said that he was “arming the people . . . because a man that does not have an arm will be enslaved”.
As the political stakes for the Brazilian leader have risen in recent weeks, so too have concerns about the radicalisation of his supporter base. At rallies some supporters appear to be adopting a paramilitary stance, wearing matching uniforms and calling for a shutdown of Congress and the supreme court.
“I would put all these bums in jail, starting with the supreme court,” said Abraham Weintraub, Brazil’s education minister and a close ally of the president, in the released video.
Brazil’s supreme court on Friday also requested to examine Mr Bolsonaro’s mobile phone and asked him to give testimony as part of the investigation — a move that prompted his national security adviser to warn of “unpredictable consequences for the stability of the nation”.
A decision on whether or not to indict is expected in the coming weeks.
Also ensnared in the fallout from the video’s release was Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, who was caught on tape saying the government should take advantage of the media’s focus on the Covid-19 pandemic to “change and simplify” environmental rules.
Mr Salles and Mr Bolsonaro have faced sharp criticism from activists for the country’s weak environmental protection and the government’s professed desire to open the Amazon rainforest to commercial enterprise.
The environment minister defended his stance on the video, saying he always backed the simplification of rules “with good sense and within the law”.
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice