Brasilia (AFP): Brazil’s justice minister asked federal police Monday to investigate reports ex-president Jair Bolsonaro tried to illegally import jewelry worth $3.2 million gifted by Saudi Arabia, as tax officials probe a second present of jewels.
The far-right former president has faced mounting questions over the jewels since newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo reported Friday that customs officers blocked an aide to his former mines and energy minister, Bento Albuquerque, from bringing them into Brazil without paying the required import duty after an official trip in October 2021.
According to the newspaper, Bolsonaro administration officials intervened at least eight times to try to convince customs officers to release the diamond jewels — a necklace, a ring, a watch and a pair of earrings from Swiss luxury house Chopard — that had been given to the president’s wife.
Bolsonaro denies wrongdoing.
“They’re accusing me over a gift I neither requested nor received. There was no illegality on my part,” he told CNN Brasil on Saturday from the United States, where he has been living since two days before his leftist successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, took office on January 1.
The scandal deepened Monday when Brazil’s tax agency said it had opened its own investigation over reports that Albuquerque’s delegation entered the country with a second, previously undetected set of jewels, also a gift from the Saudi government.
Albuquerque mentioned the second set of jewels — a watch and a pen, also made by Chopard — in an interview with Estado de Sao Paulo.
“The incident could constitute a violation of customs law for failure to declare goods and pay the required duties,” the tax agency said in a statement, vowing to take “all necessary measures” to enforce the law.
For its part, the federal police unit for combating treasury crimes in Sao Paulo reported in a note late Monday that it was also opening an investigation into the “irregular entry” of the seized jewels following the request from the minister.
Brazilian media reports said the second set of jewels had been handed over to the presidential palace’s official collection on December 29, 2022.
Under Brazilian law, travelers entering the country with goods worth more than $1,000 are required to declare them.
The first family would then either have had to pay import duty on the jewels — equal to half their value — or give them to the presidential palace collection as official gifts to the nation.