By Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Walter Braga Netto, a close ally of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, is under federal investigation for alleged equipment procurement irregularities, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
The investigation is being led by Brazil's Federal Police, who are overseeing several potentially damaging corruption probes into Bolsonaro and some of his closest allies.
Braga Netto, a former army general who led a military intervention to tackle crime in Rio de Janeiro state, joined Bolsonaro's administration as his chief of staff and later defense minister. He then resigned from that post to join Bolsonaro's ticket as his running mate in the 2022 election, which was narrowly won by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The Federal Police confirmed they are probing whether the Rio intervention force illegally overpaid for over 9,000 bulletproof vests in 2018. The police said the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Agency had also cooperated in the investigation.
Braga Netto said the invention office contracts followed Brazilian law and that the contract to buy the vests was suspended by his office after it found "suspected irregularities" in the documentation. The vests were never purchased or delivered, he added.
Police executed 16 search warrants in four different states, although Braga Netto was not directly targeted. Police have been given access to Braga Netto's confidential financial and communications records, one of the sources said.
A number of criminal probes have beset Bolsonaro and his allies, threatening to land the ex-leader in jail. Bolsonaro has already been ruled politically ineligible until 2030 by Brazil's federal electoral court.
On Saturday, Brazil's Supreme Court authorized a cooperation deal between Bolsonaro's former aide Mauro Cid and the Federal Police.
Cid has been at the center of various investigations into the former president, including allegations of falsified vaccination records and a scheme to sell off expensive jewels given to the Bolsonaro administration.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Writing by Peter Frontini; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)