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LATIN AMERICA | 29-06-2023 13:21

Brazil court resumes trial that could bar Bolsonaro from politics

Judges will continue delivering verdicts Thursday on charges that far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro broke the law with his unproven allegations against Brazil's election system, which could see him banned from holding office for eight years.

Judges will continue  delivering verdicts Thursday on charges that far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro broke the law with his unproven allegations against Brazil's election system, which could see him banned from holding office for eight years.

The Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is trying the former president on charges he abused his office and misused state media when he made undocumented allegations of security flaws in Brazil's electronic voting system at a televised meeting with foreign diplomats in July 2022, three months before his election defeat to leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The lead judge on the case, Benedito Gonçalves, ruled Tuesday to convict Bolsonaro, saying he had used "violent speech and lies" that "endangered the credibility" of Brazil's electoral system.

The court's six remaining judges are due to issue their rulings one by one when the trial resumes Thursday morning – although further delays are possible. A majority of at least four-to-three is needed for conviction.

Insiders say the court is almost certain to convict Bolsonaro, which would shut down the ever-divisive ex-Army captain's plans to seek a presidential comeback in the 2026 presidential race.

Bolsonaro's lawyer, Tarcisio Vieira, has said he will appeal to the Supreme Court if Bolsonaro is found guilty.

The evidence "is very fragile for a sanction of this magnitude," he said.

 

'Extremely harmful'

Bolsonaro, 68, is not expected in court. He skipped the first two hearings in his trial, spending the opening day last week greeting supporters and attending events in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

"I don't see any advantage in the former president being physically present in court," said Vieira.

Bolsonaro denies wrongdoing, but has acknowledged the outlook is not good for him.

"Everyone is saying I'm going to be found ineligible" to run for office, Bolsonaro acknowledged in an interview with newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

At the July 2022 meeting in the presidential residence, Bolsonaro spent nearly an hour making his argument to the assembled ambassadors, armed with a PowerPoint presentation but no hard evidence to back his claim that the electronic voting machines Brazil has used since 1996 compromised the transparency of the elections.

Judge Gonçalves said the briefing "served to incite a state of collective paranoia" about the upcoming elections at a time when Brazil was deeply polarized.

"He instigated a belief that there was a real threat the results of the 2022 election would be adulterated," he said in his ruling. "It was extremely harmful to the democratic environment."

 

January riots in focus

Prosecutors have linked Bolsonaro's statements to the riotous aftermath of the elections, when his supporters invaded the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court on January 8, a week after Lula's inauguration.

His lawyer rejected the allegation, and urged the court to exclude evidence related to the January 8 riots, saying it was not connected to the case at hand.

Both Bolsonaro's unsubstantiated talk of election fraud and the January 8 riots drew widespread comparisons to his political role model, Donald Trump, and the latter's bid to hang onto power after his loss in the 2020 US presidential election.

Bolsonaro, who spent three months in the United States after his term was up, has kept an uncharacteristically low profile since returning to Brazil in March to serve as honorary president of his Liberal Party.

He faces a raft of other legal woes, from five Supreme Court investigations that could send him to jail – including over the January 8 attacks – to police probes into allegations of a faked Covid-19 vaccination certificate and diamond jewellery snuck into the country from Saudi Arabia.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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