Brazil judge orders Bolsonaro to explain Saudi jewels
A Brazilian judge on Friday ruled that former president Jair Bolsonaro must face questioning over reports he tried to illegally import jewelry worth $3.2 million gifted to him and his wife by Saudi Arabia.
The far-right ex-army captain has faced mounting questions over the October 2021 episode, in which customs officers allegedly seized undeclared diamond jewels, since Brazilian media reported on it last week.
The jewels were allegedly carried by a government aide in a backpack returning from an official trip to the Middle East.
A judge on Brazil's Federal Court of Accounts (TCU), which oversees the government coffers, ordered Bolsonaro and his former mines and energy minister, Bento Albuquerque, to give depositions to investigators on whether the jewels were personal presents or gifts to the nation, and why they were not properly declared.
Bolsonaro lost reelection to another four-year term in October, and has been in the US state of Florida since two days before his leftist successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, took office on 1 January 2023.
Judge Augusto Nardes ordered Bolsonaro not to "wear, make use of or transfer ownership of any piece from the collection."
According to newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo, which first broke the story, Bolsonaro administration officials intervened at least eight times to try to convince customs officers to release the seized jewels -- a necklace, a ring, a watch and a pair of earrings from Swiss luxury house Chopard.
Subsequent media reports said a second set of gifted jewels from Saudi Arabia was brought into Brazil undetected after the same trip and given to Bolsonaro.
The second set reportedly features a watch, a pen and a pair of cufflinks, also made by Chopard.
Federal police and tax officials both announced Monday they had opened investigations into the case.
Under Brazilian law, travelers entering the country with goods worth more than $1,000 are required to declare them.
The first family would then either have had to pay import duty on the jewels -- equal to half their value -- or give them to the presidential palace collection as official gifts to the nation.
Bolsonaro denies wrongdoing.
"They're accusing me over a gift I neither requested nor received," he told CNN Brasil last Saturday from the United States.