Former president Jair Bolsonaro returned to Brazil on Thursday after three months of self-exile, to be welcomed by rapturous supporters and a police summons over $3mn of jewels said to have been gifts from the Saudi government.
The rightwing populist landed early in Brasília on a flight from Orlando, Florida, where he had stayed since late last year after leaving Brazil to avoid the inauguration of his successor, leftwing leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Scores of supporters dressed in the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag gathered at 5am to meet him in the airport, singing the national anthem and cursing Lula. The former president, however, left the premises via a private exit and did not greet the crowd, leaving many disappointed.
Hours before his departure for Brazil, federal police summoned him to give evidence on April 5 in an investigation into at least two sets of jewellery, worth millions of dollars, given to the president and his family purportedly by the Saudi government.
Shortly before embarking, Bolsonaro criticised Lula’s administration, telling local media that people “had been deceived by socialism. I hope that Brazil doesn’t go under, I hope it doesn’t go down the path [of Venezuela]”.
The 68-year-old former army captain is expected to meet political allies in the Brazilian capital on Thursday. Bolsonaro’s political party has said he then intends to tour the country’s north-east to drum up support in a region long considered a Lula stronghold.
His arrival diverted attention from the government’s long-awaited announcement of a new fiscal framework on Thursday, which had been expected to be a landmark moment for the new administration.
Economists say the framework, to be unveiled mid-morning, is key to keeping government spending in check and providing confidence to investors.
The return of the former president has the potential to complicate Lula’s presidency by mobilising the right against the government, according to political analysts.
But Bolsonaro also faces mounting legal challenges. The jewellery case concerns at least two sets of gems, one of which, believed to be destined for his wife Michelle, was apprehended by customs authorities from a political aide as he re-entered Brazil from Saudi Arabia in 2021.
Neither set was declared to be public patrimony, nor were they declared as gifts subject to import taxes, according to local media reports. Police are investigating potential corruption, smuggling and abuse of presidential powers in the case, all of which Bolsonaro denies.
The conservative former army captain is also being investigated for allegedly inciting the January 8 riots in Brasília, when thousands of his supporters stormed Congress, the supreme court and the presidential palace. Bolsonaro, who was in Florida at the time, denies involvement and wrongdoing.
Separately, Brazil’s electoral court is probing claims of misconduct during the election last year, which if proven could see Bolsonaro barred from holding political office for eight years.
Additional reporting by Carolina Ingizza