Sunday, May 19

Bolsonaro Faces New Legal Jeopardy After Stay at Hungarian Embassy

Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered former President Jair Bolsonaro to explain why he spent two nights at the Hungarian Embassy, and the Brazilian federal police began investigating whether the February stay violated earlier court orders, police and court officials have said.

The moves from the Supreme Court and federal police add to mounting legal jeopardy for Brazil’s former leader and followed a New York Times investigation published on Monday that showed Mr. Bolsonaro hid at the Hungarian Embassy in Brasília days after the authorities confiscated his passport because he was under criminal investigation.

The Times report, based on three days of footage from the embassy’s security cameras, showed that the former president had appeared to be seeking political asylum from Hungary, whose prime minister is a fellow hard-right leader, Viktor Orban.

After The Times’s reporting, Mr. Bolsonaro confirmed that he had stayed at the embassy but declined to say why. “I have a circle of friends with some world leaders,” he told a Brazilian news outlet. “They’re worried.” His lawyer then issued a statement saying that Mr. Bolsonaro’s stay at the embassy was merely to talk politics and that “any other interpretation” was “just another piece of fake news.”

That account was not enough for Justice Alexandre de Moraes of the Brazilian Supreme Court, who has overseen a series of investigations into Mr. Bolsonaro. On Monday night, Mr. Moraes gave the former president 48 hours to explain his stay at the embassy, according to Mariana Oliveira, a court spokeswoman.

On Feb. 8, Justice Moraes authorized raids and arrests on several of Mr. Bolsonaro’s former top aides and ministers on accusations that they had plotted a coup after Mr. Bolsonaro lost the 2022 election. As part of that operation, the justice ordered Mr. Bolsonaro to hand over his passport and not to leave the country as the police investigated his involvement.

The Brazilian federal police are now investigating whether Mr. Bolsonaro’s stay at the Hungarian Embassy broke those orders, according to a federal police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the inquiry.

Some legal analysts in Brazil have said that Mr. Bolsonaro’s apparent bid for asylum could lead to his arrest if the authorities believe that he is likely to face criminal charges and could in the future try to evade detention.

“Bolsonaro’s move to hide in the embassy is a classic basis for pretrial detention,” said Augusto de Arruda Botelho, a lawyer and Brazil’s former national justice secretary.

“It’s one of those situations used as an example in textbooks and classrooms,” he added.

Supreme Court justices in Brazil have broad power, and Justice Moraes has previously acted aggressively against Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies, saying that their actions had threatened the country’s democracy. Many right-wing Brazilians have in turn accused the justice of abusing his power.

Two leftist members of Brazil’s Congress said on Monday that they had filed formal requests with the Supreme Court and attorney general, asking for Mr. Bolsonaro’s pretrial detention.

Mr. Bolsonaro is a target of various criminal investigations. In one case, the federal police recommended criminal charges against him last week on accusations that he had taken part in a plot to falsify his Covid-19 vaccination records. Prosecutors have yet to weigh in on that case.

There was also fallout for Hungarian diplomats in Brazil. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Miklos Halmai, Hungary’s ambassador, to explain Mr. Bolsonaro’s stay at the embassy.

In a 20-minute meeting with Brazilian officials, Mr. Halmai gave the same explanation as Mr. Bolsonaro’s lawyer — that the former president had been at the embassy only to talk politics, according to a Foreign Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.

The official said that Maria Luisa Escorel, Brazil’s secretary for Europe and North America, had told Mr. Halmai that it was highly unusual to host a former president for multiple nights in a city where he also has a home, particularly since he is under criminal investigation.

Paulo Motoryn contributed reporting from Brasília, and Leonardo Coelho from Rio de Janeiro.