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Former Brazil military chiefs implicate Bolsonaro in coup conspiracy

FILE PHOTO: Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures while standing in front of his house before testifying to the Federal Police in Brasilia

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The former commanders of Brazil's Army and Air Force told police investigators that President Jair Bolsonaro summoned them twice to meetings to discuss a possible coup d'état after his election defeat in 2022, according to their testimonies released on Friday by the Supreme Court.

Their accounts place Bolsonaro at the center of a plot to declare martial law and stop leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva coming to power after he won the election that year.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Bolsonaro has denied attempting a coup in the days after his election defeat, which he never conceded. He left for the United States to avoid handing the presidential sash to Lula. Days later, his supporters stormed government buildings trying to provoke a coup.

Bolsonaro's lawyers did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

In their depositions, former Army commander Marco Antonio Freire Gomes and Air Force commander Carlos de Almeida Baptista said they both told Bolsonaro they would not support a coup, defusing any military backing for the then-president's plans.

Both military chiefs implicated Navy commander Almir Garnier Santos in the coup plans. In several meetings, they said, the admiral said the Navy was ready to back Bolsonaro in a military uprising.

Garnier Santos has not spoken publicly about the investigation carried out by the Federal Police under instructions from the Supreme Court.

Beyond the two military commanders, police have depositions by three other witnesses who directly implicate Bolsonaro as the main conspirator behind the attempted coup, a police source told Reuters.

The investigation will detail a chronology of Bolsonaro's attempts to organize a coup with members of his government, including active and retired military officers, said the source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

The military commanders said the meetings with Bolsonaro took place in the presidential residence.

Freire Gomes said in his deposition that Bolsonaro presented a draft decree for declaring a state of siege. The retired general said it was the same draft text found by police on the computer of Bolsonaro aide Mauro Cid, who is under arrest and has entered a plea bargain with the authorities.

The two commanders were called to a third meeting with then Defense Minister Paulo Sergio Nogueira to discuss the draft decree. They testified that when they asked the minister if the text implied that president-elect Lula would be barred from taking office, Nogueira did not answer.

They then refused to consider the text of the decree.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardobrito; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)