RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA, March 7 (Reuters) – A criminal probe into former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s alleged efforts to illegally bring $3.2 million of jewelry into the country could further delay his return from the United States, sources tied to Bolsonaro told Reuters on Tuesday.
Justice Minister Flavio Dino on Monday ordered police to investigate the case. Bolsonaro is in self-imposed exile in the United States after losing his re-election bid last year.
Luxury jewelry gifted to Bolsonaro and former first lady Michelle Bolsonaro by the Saudi government was seized by customs officials at São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport in October 2021.
Brazilians are allowed to bring in $1,000 of goods or gifts and pay hefty taxes for anything over that value.
The Bolsonaro administration unsuccessfully tried to recover the jewelry multiple times through government officials, according to local media.
The episode is further complicated, the sources said, by a series of letters from officials in Bolsonaro’s government asking for the jewelry to be released. One was sent on the eve of his departure for the United States two days before his term ended in December, they said.
Bolsonaro has said he plans to return to Brazil this month to lead the opposition and defend himself against accusations that he instigated the Jan. 8 riots in Brasilia, in which his supporters stormed government buildings. He has also indicated plans to run again for president in 2026.
Bolsonaro lost the Oct. 30 election to his leftist rival President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. For months ahead of the vote, he had cast baseless doubts on the electoral system, creating a potent force of election deniers.
Bolsonaro, who began his self-exile in Florida, has been seen greeting supporters, eating at fast food restaurants and addressing conservative meetings. He has been unwilling to put a firm date on his return.
He entered the United States on a visa reserved for heads of state and other government officials, then applied for a six-month tourist visa. Since he no longer holds public office, he is more vulnerable to court-ordered measures such as search and seizure warrants.
His son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, said earlier on Wednesday his father would return on March 15, but quickly deleted the post.
“I’m sorry for the previous post, I might be missing him a lot,” he tweeted, adding date was “likely but still unconfirmed.”