Brazil's Bolsonaro formally accused over Saudi gifts, sources say

FILE PHOTO: Bolsonaro participates in party event amid coup inquiry, in Goiania

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazilian federal police on Thursday formally accused former President Jair Bolsonaro of embezzlement for allegedly misappropriating jewelry he received while head of state, including luxury items given by the Saudi Arabian government, two police sources said.

This is the second time police have formally accused Bolsonaro of a crime. He was charged in March with forging his COVID-19 vaccine records.

The jewelry, some of it made by Chopard of Switzerland, was valued at $3.2 million and included a diamond necklace, ring, watch and earrings given to Bolsonaro and former first lady Michelle Bolsonaro by the Saudi government.

Some of the jewelry was seized by customs officials at Sao Paulo's international airport in October 2021 when it was found in the backpack of a government aide returning from Riyadh.

The police accused Bolsonaro of money laundering, criminal association and embezzlement, according to one of the sources, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

Brazil's federal police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bolsonaro's lawyer did not return calls requesting comment. His legal defense had previously denied the former president had committed any crimes. His eldest son Flavio, who is a senator, wrote on Thursday in his account on social media platform "X" that Bolsonaro was being "persecuted".

In an investigation authorized by Supreme Court Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes, police last year searched the homes of military officers who allegedly helped Bolsonaro sell some of the jewelry in the United States.

At the time, Justice Moraes said the items had been sold and the sale had not been declared.

The police also formally accused on Thursday former mines and energy minister Bento Albuquerque, whose aide had returned with him from a visit to Riyadh, Bolsonaro's former aide-de-camp Mauro Cid, who was allegedly involved in selling jewelry, his lawyer Frederick Wassef and his spokesperson Fabio Wajngarten, according to a source.

In his "X" account, Wajngarten said the accusation was "arbitrary, unfair and persecutory", arguing he had just instructed Bolsonaro to return the gifts to Brazil's audit court.

Cid's lawyer noted in a statement that his client has been under a plea bargain agreement with Brazilian authorities, saying police accusation is just another phase of the investigation.

Wassef said in a statement he only bought a watch in the United States with his own money in order to return it to Brazilian authorities. According to him, neither Cid or Bolsonaro had told him to purchase back the watch.

Albuquerque could not immediately be reached for comments.

News website G1 reported earlier on Thursday that police had formally accused Bolsonaro.

Brazil's prosecutor general can now chose whether to charge Bolsonaro based on police accusations. Later, the former president could be indicted if a judge accepts these potential charges.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito in Brasilia; writing by Andre Romani in Sao Paulo; Editing by Rod Nickel,Aida Pelaez-Fernandez and Alistair Bell)