BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Then Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ordered an aide to sell undeclared luxury jewelry received as a gift and funnel the money to him, a lawyer for the aide charged Friday.
Cezar Bittencourt, who represents Bolsonaro’s former right-hand man, Lt. Col. Mauro Cid, said his client had recounted receiving those orders from Bolsonaro shortly before the president left office at the end of last year.
The claim was initially reported in an interview published Friday by the Brazilian magazine Veja, and Bittencourt confirmed his comments in a phone call with The Associated Press.
Bittencourt said that in December 2022, Cid asked about a Rolex watch the president was given by government of Saudi Arabia in 2019. Bolsonaro replied that Cid should “deal with it,” which eventually led to the aide selling two watches in the U.S. and handing the money to Bolsonaro, the attorney said.
A week ago, Brazil’s Federal Police charged that Bolsonaro received cash from the nearly $70,000 sale of the two watches. They were part of a total of three sets of jewelry given to the then president by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Officials from Bolsonaro’s office brought the jewelry into Brazil without declaring them, which sparked suspicions of money laundering and illegal personal possession of government items. That investigation became public in March.
Brazil requires citizens arriving by plane from abroad to declare goods worth more than $1,000 and pay a tax of 50% of the value above that threshold. The jewelry would be exempt from tax if it was an official gift to Brazil, but would not have been Bolsonaro’s to keep.
Bolsonaro and his lawyers contend the sets of jewelry were personal gifts and therefore can be sold as he wishes. Investigators say he did not register the jewelry in his personal collection until just before he left office.
When the matter became public in March, Bolsonaro initially said he did not know about the gifts, but his camp has given various versions. On Friday, Bolsonaro said in a video to the Brazilian newspaper Estadao that Cid had autonomy on how to handle the jewelry and did not receive orders.
Bittencourt’s report on Cid’s claim is the first time the former aide has spoken publicly about the jewelry. Cid was arrested in May on accusations of falsifying COVID-19 vaccine cards for members of his own family and for Bolsonaro and his family.
In July, Cid was called to testify to a special congressional committee that is investigating the Jan. 8 rampage by Bolsonaro’s supporters in the capital, Brasilia. He remained silent throughout the entire session.
On Friday, seven high-ranking military police officers were arrested in connection with the Jan. 8 attacks.
A few hours later, Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes authorized the lifting of bank secrecy for Bolsonaro and Cid’s accounts in the U.S.