Brazilian police on Tuesday launched an operation against eight businessmen suspected of being part of a WhatsApp group that discussed the benefits of staging a coup if President Jair Bolsonaro loses the October elections to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leader of the Workers’ Party (PT). The WhatsApp group news was revealed by Brazilian online newspaper Metropoles on August 17.
“I prefer a shot at the return of the PT. A million times over,” wrote Jose Koury, a pro-Bolsonaro real estate mogul from Rio de Janeiro, three weeks ago. As part of the operation, the police raided the homes of the businessmen, blocked their social media accounts and examined their bank accounts.
The raid targeted billionaire Luciano Hang, owner of the Havan department store chain, which offers replicas of the American Statue of Liberty outside its stores. Hang, one of Bolsonaro’s most prominent supporters, said on Twitter that police appeared at his home at 6 a.m. He denied talking about staging a coup in the WhatsApp group.
Jose Isaac Peres, CEO of shopping center operator Multiplan Empreendimentos Imobiliarios SA, was also targeted by police; Meyer Joseph Nigri, chairman of home builder Tecnisa SA; Ivan Wrobel, owner of engineering company W3; Afranio Barreira Filho, from the Coco Bambu restaurant chain; and Luiz André Tissot, owner of furniture company Sierra Móveis.
The operation has made headlines in Brazil, which is preparing for a close election on October 2. Lula leads the polls with 47%, while Bolsonaro trails with 32%, according to pollster Datafolha. The far-right leader, however, is closing the gap.
Two of Bolsonaro’s sons, both federal lawmakers, have denounced the police investigation as an abuse of power threatening free speech.
“It’s insane to order a search and seizure warrant against honest businessmen…for saying in a private WhatsApp conversation that they would prefer anything to an ex-con,” he said. tweeted Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, referring to Lula’s time in prison for corruption convictions. were then overthrown.
The search warrant was signed by Judge Alexandre de Moraes, whom Bolsonaro and his supporters consider “enemy number one”. The judge is a member of the Supreme Court – the institution fighting to curb the president’s authoritarian drift – and has just assumed the presidency of the electoral tribunal, which oversees the voting process.
The fear of a coup – more in the form of a constitutional breach than a military coup – has long taken hold in Brazil due to the president’s continued attacks on the country‘s institutions. Bolsonaro also began to cast doubt on the validity of the electoral process. In an interview with national newspaper, the most-watched news program in Brazil, the president was asked to say live on television that he would respect the results of the October elections. Bolsonaro responded that he would only accept results from “clean and transparent” elections, casting doubt on a process that has never detected any significant instances of fraud.
There are also fears that Bolsonaro could turn Brazil’s Independence Day, September 7, into a popular show of force. The far-right leader called on his supporters to fill the streets, and even secured the balmy heart of the Portuguese monarch who declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal 200 years ago. The organ arrived in Brazil on Tuesday and will be on display at the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs until the bicentenary.
Despite concerns, Lula said on Monday he was confident Brazil would not see an attack like the one that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, when pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. “I am sure that the election result will be fully accepted,” he told foreign correspondents in São Paulo. “Those who lose have a right to complain, but patience is part of the game.”