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Bolsonaro lost the election. Now he’s trying to avoid arrest.

It's been a bad 10 months for Jair Bolsonaro.

He lost re-election as Brazilian president. Thousands of his followers stormed the power halls of Brazil. And he was barred from holding elected office for seven years.

Now things could be about to get worse: Across Brazil, both his critics and supporters are speculating that the next twist could be his arrest.

Mr Bolsonaro, 68, is embroiled in a series of investigations into fraud and vote-rigging that have already jailed some of his closest allies and appear to be drawing ever closer to him in recent weeks.

But one case could pose the biggest threat facing the former president in the near future, and it revolves around an alleged plan akin to a petty mafia scam: selling stolen watches at a mall outside of Philadelphia.

This month, Brazil's federal police raided an investigation into an alleged wide-ranging conspiracy by Mr Bolsonaro and several allies to hijack expensive gifts he received as president from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. In one case, authorities are charging Mr Bolsonaro's personal adviser with selling a diamond Rolex watch and a Patek Philippe watch to a jewelry store in Pennsylvania's Willow Grove Park Mall last year.

Mr. Bolsonaro ultimately received at least some of the $68,000 from the cash sale, federal police officials said.

In an interview, Mr Bolsonaro's lawyer, Paulo Cunha Bueno, said it was irrelevant whether Mr Bolsonaro attempted to sell the diplomatic gifts, as a government panel had previously ruled that much of the jewelry was Mr Bolsonaro's personal property and not that of the state. “It's his right,” Mr Bueno said. “It does not matter.”

Some other Brazilian law experts said that such expensive gifts were clearly state property and that Mr Bolsonaro appeared to be in legal trouble. “It seems very unlikely to me that the president will not face criminal charges of embezzlement,” said Miguel Reale, Brazil's former justice minister under another president. Such a charge carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison, he said. “It's a pretty tricky situation for the President.”

The case is another parallel between Mr Bolsonaro and Donald J. Trump. Two far-right, nationalist leaders who have attacked their country's democratic institutions are now both accused of abusing foreign gifts they received as president.

House Democrats have accused Trump's White House of failing to properly document more than 100 foreign gifts totaling more than $250,000. At the time of the House of Representatives' report in March, those gifts had been definitively recorded except for two: golf clubs belonging to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and an 8-foot-tall painting of Mr. Trump by El Salvador's President, Nayib Bukele. Mr. Trump said later He found at least one of the golf clubs in a locker, and The New York Times found the missing painting in a back room of a Trump hotel in Miami.

Like Mr Trump, Mr Bolsonaro's foreign gift history is hardly his only legal issue. Other investigations into Mr Bolsonaro have intensified in recent weeks. There are investigations into his possible involvement in the January 8 riots in the Brazilian capital. a plan to falsify his Covid-19 vaccination records; an alleged conspiracy to do so Wiretapping a Supreme Court Justice; And Allegations that he called the police to overtake his rival's voters on Election Day. Last week, A hacker testified before the Brazilian Congress that Mr Bolsonaro urged him to hack into the country's electoral system ahead of the 2022 presidential election to show it was insecure.

Mr Bolsonaro denies any wrongdoing, saying the allegations are fabricated and constitute political persecution. Both could have serious criminal consequences for Mr. Bolsonaro.

Mr. Bolsonaro's problems with foreign gifts began in 2021 when Brazilian customs officials seized more than $3 million worth of undeclared jewels from the backpack of a Brazilian government official returning from an official visit to Saudi Arabia. The official said the jewels were a gift from Saudi officials to Mr Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle. According to several Brazilian news outlets, including Estadão, Mr Bolsonaro later made several attempts to retrieve the jewels. who first reported the seizure.

That case launched a federal investigation into Mr. Bolsonaro's handling of foreign gifts, which investigators say has uncovered widespread embezzlement and money laundering.

In one incident, law enforcement officials said, Bolsonaro's personal adviser, Lt. Col. Mauro Cid, attempted to sell an 18-karat gold set, including a ring, cufflinks and an Arabic rosary, made by the luxury brand Chopard in Manhattan at an auction house called Fortuna. In a “Valentine's Day” auction in FebruaryFortuna listed the set, which police say was a gift from the Saudi government, for $50,000, with an estimated value of up to $140,000. It wasn't sold.

According to police, Mr Cid and other helpers tried to sell various other items but were only successful with the watches. In June 2022, while Mr. Cid was in the United States following Bolsonaro's Summit of the Americas trip, he sold the Rolex and Patek Philippe watches to Precision Watches & Jewelry in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, police said.

Neither Fortuna nor Precision Watches responded to requests for comment.

Brazilian law allows presidents to keep some gifts of a personal nature, such as a custom-made hat, but they must not be of high value and they must not be a valuable jewel, said Bruno Dantas, the head of Brazil's supervisory court and the effective auditor of the federal government. “If it's a diamond necklace with the president's name on it, he can't have that,” Dantas said.

To help with the decision, the President is asking a government-appointed panel. The panel concluded that most of the jewelry Mr Bolsonaro's employees attempted to sell was of a personal nature.

Mr Bueno, Mr Bolsonaro's lawyer, said the jewelry was now owned by Mr Bolsonaro. “He can sell them,” he said. “And when he dies, the estate goes to his heirs.”

Mr Dantas said the governing body made a mistake; It should have been obvious that such expensive gifts are state property. “If this was due to incompetence, the incompetent will be punished for their incompetence,” Mr Dantas said in an interview. “But if it was intentional, then there has been a crime.”

Federal Police searched the house and confiscated the phone of the panel's chairman, Marcelo da Silva Vieira. The judge overseeing the case has said Some evidence suggests Mr Bolsonaro may have directed the panel to grant him the gifts.

The chairman's lawyer, Eduardo Kuntz, said the panel was not pressured to decide as it did and that his client “would have made the same decision a thousand times over”.

Mr Bolsonaro still had to get a separate permit from another government agency to sell the gifts, but he didn't. Investigators said Mr Bolsonaro and his associates also attempted to cover up the sales, using cash when they could or, in some cases, not disclosing the foreign gifts at all. The Rolex sold in Pennsylvania was disclosed as a gift from Saudi Arabia. But the Patek Phillipe watch was never reported and police officials believe it came from officers in Bahrain.

When the surveillance court found out about the jewelry from Mr Dantas earlier this year, it ordered Mr Bolsonaro to return it.

In March, Frederick Wassef, Mr Bolsonaro's former attorney, flew to Pennsylvania and bought back the Rolex for $49,000, police said.

But when I was asked about the Rolex last week, Mr Wassef told Brazilian news site g1: “I've never seen this watch.” He added: “I dare you to prove it.”

Then news sites posted the receipt with his name on it. Mr. Wassef admitted he had bought the watch backbut said Mr Bolsonaro did not send him.

The foreign jewels case, as well as most of Mr Bolsonaro's investigations, are overseen by Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice who has become one of Brazil's most powerful and divisive figures. He served as the chief controller of Mr Bolsonaro's power for years, taking responsibility for most cases involving the former president. Last week he authorized authorities to gain access to Mr Bolsonaro and his wife's foreign bank accounts.

Federal Police officers also received Mr Cid's WhatsApp messages, which revealed he had attempted to sell the jewelry and delivered cash to Mr Bolsonaro. Speaking Jan. 18 to another of Mr Bolsonaro's advisers, Mr Cid said in an audio message that his father had $25,000 for the former president. “He would deliver it by hand,” he said. “The less movement on the account, the better, right?”

Mr Cid has been in jail for months on charges of falsifying Mr Bolsonaro's vaccination records. Mr Cid's lawyer told reporters last week that Mr Bolsonaro had instructed Mr Cid to sell the jewellery.

Mr Bolsonaro has denied receiving any money from the sales and said Mr Cid acted on his own. “My brand is honesty and always will be” he said. “There is nothing concrete against me.”

Paulo Motoryn contributed to reporting from Brasília and Ana Ionova from Rio de Janeiro.

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