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Questions over Payments Involving Son of Brazil President

by Anna Jean Kaiser
Tuesday Jan 22, 2019
In this Oct. 7, 2018 file photo, then-presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, left, accompanied by his son Flavio Bolsonaro, arrives to vote in the general election in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In this Oct. 7, 2018 file photo, then-presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, left, accompanied by his son Flavio Bolsonaro, arrives to vote in the general election in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  (Source:AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)

The son of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is fending off suspicions of financial irregularities that are starting to cast a shadow over the administration just four weeks in power.

The newspaper O Globo reported Sunday that the Council for Financial Activities Control is looking into $1.8 million in payments that have flowed in and out of the account of a former driver for the president's son, Sen.-elect Flavio Bolsonaro, from 2014 to 2017. At the time, Flavio Bolsonaro was a state deputy.

The news report comes on the heels of a December investigation by the daily O Estado de S. Paulo, which reported that money to the account of driver Fabricio Quieroz came from the younger Bolsonaro's employees and one payment went to Bolsonaro's wife.

Other irregular payments flagged by the financial regulators for being "suspected of hiding the money's origin" are 48 cash deposits of $530 to the senator-elect over the course a month in 2017, according to Globo's Jornal Nacional on Friday.

Flavio Bolsonaro denies any wrongdoing. He told a television interviewer Sunday that the deposits came from a real estate sale, but didn't explain why they were in cash.

Jair Bolsonaro and his son, far-right politicians who ran on anti-corruption platforms, deny wrongdoing and say that Queiroz should explain the other payments.

Queiroz has dodged two deposition requests from Rio de Janeiro's public prosecutors, citing health problems. He gave a television interview earlier this month denying wrongdoing, but provided few details other than that he is a "businessman" and has taken personal loans from the Bolsonaros.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao tried to diminish the case's importance, telling the news portal G1 on Monday that the probe doesn't affect the administration and that it is Flavio Bolsonaro's own problem.

Questions about the probe are escalating as Jair Bolsonaro makes his first international trip as president to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

Bolsonaro is expected to pitch the international community on his commitment to reforming Brazil's endemic corruption and volatile economy. Upon arriving Monday, he told reporters, "We will give the most ample message possible that ever since we took power: There is a new Brazil."

Bolsonaro has three sons who are elected politicians. All were active participants in his campaign and in spreading Bolsonaro's anti-corruption message.

Flavio Bolsonaro says that he is being persecuted and that his privacy has been violated by prosecutors.

The Rio district attorney, Eduardo Gussem, said at a news conference Monday that prosecutors had not broken privacy laws, citing 20-year-old legislation. He said a total of 27 state deputies have been flagged by the financial regulator over possible irregular payments.

The case got more scrutiny when Flavio Bolsonaro's lawyers last week called on the Supreme Court to suspend the Rio state case because the president's son is a senator-elect. Federal politicians in Brazil can only be judged by the Supreme Court, a legal immunity that the Bolsonaros condemned during their campaigns.

Judge Luiz Fux granted Flavio Bolsonaro's request, causing uproar among Bolsonaro critics and supporters alike.

There has been no conclusive evidence about the possibly irregular payments involving the son's driver. But such payments have often been part of a common corruption scheme in lower levels of Brazilian government in which employees kick back a portion of their salaries to the politician.

The probe is dominating national headlines less than two weeks before the start of the next Congress, where Bolsonaro faces the arduous task of forming alliances in a government body infamous for deal making and political patronage. The case could hurt the president's public support, making promised reforms more difficult to pass.

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