Brazilian police raid Bolsonaro supporters after media reports coup messages

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Brazilian police raided the premises of several prominent business supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro days after leaked messages appeared to show the men were backing a coup if the far-right leader lost his re-election bid in october.

Acting on the orders of Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who also heads the country’s electoral court, federal police on Tuesday launched a search operation at eight premises in five states, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The decision highlights the court’s growing sensitivity to threats to Brazil’s democracy ahead of what is expected to be a highly polarized election.

For more than a year, Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has expressed doubts about his respect for the outcome of the polls, repeatedly saying that “only God can remove me” from the presidency.

He also repeatedly questioned Brazil’s electronic voting system, claiming without evidence that it was prone to fraud. In an interview with local media on Monday evening, he said he would respect the result “as long as the vote is clean and transparent”.

The president trails his main rival, former leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, by 15 percentage points, according to a Datafolha poll last week.

The operation was launched on Tuesday after media group Metropoles published WhatsApp messages last week appearing to show several of the president’s supporters calling for a coup if Bolsonaro loses the election.

“I prefer a coup d’etat to the return of [Lula’s Workers’ party]. A million times. And certainly no one will stop doing business with Brazil. They do [business] with various dictatorships around the world,” José Koury, a real estate mogul, reportedly wrote in the posts.

Koury was among the targets of the raid. He could not be reached for comment. Luciano Hang, a prominent billionaire supporter of Bolsonaro, and Afrânio Barreira, owner of a popular restaurant chain, were also targeted.

Hang denied backing a coup, blaming what he called “militant media” for the scandal. Barreira said he “never defended, thought or wrote in favor of any anti-democratic or ‘coup’ movement.” I am in favor of freedom, democracy and a fair electoral process.

In addition to the raid, Judge de Moraes ordered the blocking of the men’s bank accounts and their social networks.

“The question now is how Bolsonaro will react,” said Lucas de Aragão, a partner at political consultancy Arko Advice. “We’ve seen it recently try to eschew ideological messages and move towards more political messages, with a focus on inflation, fuel, things like that. We’ll have to see [what he does now].”

Flávio Bolsonaro, senator and eldest son of the president, said it was “foolish to order a [raid] against honest businessmen for saying in a private conversation on WhatsApp that they would prefer anything to an ex-con”, a reference to the period when Lula served his prison sentence for corruption.

Gleisi Hoffmann, president of Lula’s Workers’ Party, said: “Attacks on democracy have serious consequences. It’s the only way for these people to learn.

Additional reporting by Carolina Ingizza

Video: Brazil: A Nation Divided | FT Movie
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