Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro will be investigated as part of an inquiry into an alleged attempt to topple the country’s new government, the supreme court has announced.
Thousands of radical followers of the far-right populist marauded through Brazil’s three most important democratic institutions last Sunday, apparently convinced by a tsunami of fake news that last October’s presidential election – which Bolsonaro lost – was rigged.
Following those attacks in Brasília, Bolsonaro shared a video on social media which used false information to question the victory of his leftist adversary, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was sworn in as president on 1 January.
Late on Friday, the supreme court judge Alexandre de Moraes accepted a request from the attorney general’s office that the ex-president be included in the investigation as a result of that post, which Bolsonaro later deleted.
The television network Globo said the investigation would examine whether Bolsonaro was one of the “intellectual authors” of the 8 January attacks, which saw extremists armed with metal bars and slingshots ransack Brazil’s congress, supreme court and presidential palace.
During his four-year term Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper notorious for his authoritarian tendencies, relentlessly worked to undermine Brazil’s electronic voting system. The Donald Trump-supporting radical, who flew to the US on the eve of Lula’s inauguration, has refused to publicly concede defeat in the election – something many hardcore supporters have taken as tacit support for their ongoing crusade to overturn the result.
In a statement Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Frederick Wassef, said the former president had “always repudiated every kind of illegal and criminal act” and been a “defender of democracy”. Wassef denied Bolsonaro had played any role in Sunday’s violence, which, without evidence, he blamed on “infiltrators”.
Earlier on Friday, Brazil’s foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, denounced what he called last Sunday’s “utterly reprehensible” attack on his country’s young democracy, which was re-established in 1985 after more than two decades of military dictatorship.
Speaking to a small group of foreign correspondents in Brasília, Vieira said he believed the forceful response of Lula’s government would deter further attacks. More than 1,000 alleged insurrectionists have so far been arrested, among them military officials, while federal police are pursuing those who bankrolled the violence.
“The impression I have is that the manner in which the government reacted will discourage any kind of new adventure because the punishments will be increasingly severe,” Vieira said.
The foreign minister added: “I hope that everyone has realised that the government is not messing around with this and that strong and firm measures have and will be taken in accordance with the law if there is any other kind of initiative.”
There is as yet no evidence that Bolsonaro was directly involved in planning Sunday’s far-right rebellion, which was condemned by world leaders including Rishi Sunak, Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden.
However, suspicions that Bolsonaro may have been involved grew this week after the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of his former justice minister, Anderson Torres, for potential acts of omission. During a search of Torres’s home in Brasília, federal police officers reportedly found a draft decree that sought to authorise an emergency intervention in Brazil’s electoral court designed to overturn the election result.
Torres, who has denied wrongdoing, was arrested at Brasília airport on Saturday morning after flying back from the US where he was purportedly on holiday at the time of the attacks.
Political commentators described the supreme court decision as dire news for the former president.
“Bolsonaro has become a toxic character,” the journalist Eliane Cantanhêde told the GloboNews television network.
“But radical extremist Bolsonaristas boast a network of fake news and online brainwashing”, that would not disappear in the case of Bolsonaro’s political demise, Cantanhêde added.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Lula said he suspected the rightwing rebels had inside help in storming his presidential offices.
“Many people were complicit in this … Many people in the military police were complicit. There were many people in the armed forces here inside [the palace] who were complicit,” Lula said.
“I am convinced that the door to the Planalto palace was opened so these people could get in because I didn’t see the front door had been broken down. And that means that somebody facilitated their entry here.”