Brazil: Witness Linking Bolsonaro to Murder Lied, Prosecutor Reveals

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends the changing of the guard ceremony at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on July 31, 2019. - Bolsonaro met with US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Wednesday in Brasilia. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP) (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

A witness linking Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to the murder of a left-wing politician lied in his deposition, a public prosecutor revealed Wednesday, following the publication of a report Bolsonaro denounced in an impassioned Facebook live as “villainy.”

Two gunmen shot Marielle Franco — a young Rio de Janeiro councilwoman considered a rising star on the left for her advocacy for black and LGBT Brazilians — dead on March 14, 2018, along with her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes. Witnesses described the shooting as a coordinated attack that would have required planning. Law enforcement agents arrested two military police officers, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, but have continued seeking evidence on why the men killed Franco and who may have aided her assassination.

Police believe Lessa killed Franco and Gomes; Queiroz drove the getaway vehicle.

Lessa is the owner of two homes, numbers 65 and 66, in a sprawling beachfront gated community in Rio de Janeiro known as the Vivendas da Barra, in Barra da Tijuca. Jair Bolsonaro is the owner of property 58 in the same complex; his son, Rio de Janeiro Councilman Carlos Bolsonaro, owns property 36 and, given his father’s status as a congressman before winning the presidency, often took care of home 58 while his father was in Brasilia legislating. When Bolsonaro became president in January, his son reportedly moved into home 58 to “clean up his father’s mess,” according to a report in Globo media.

On Tuesday, Jornal Nacional (“National Newspaper”), a news program on TV Globo, aired a bombshell report claiming that the doorman to the gated community told police that Queiroz visited the complex on the day of Franco’s assassination. The doorman claimed that he had logged Queiroz as visiting house 58, Bolsonaro’s, at 5:10 p.m. on the day of Franco’s death but that he instead visited house 66, Lessa’s. To enter the building, the doorman, who has not been identified, would have had to call the house in question to confirm the visitor. The doorman claimed that he did and that Queiroz identified the person who answered as “my Jair.”

Jornal Nacional did not speculate on what role, exactly, the alleged new evidence suggests that Bolsonaro had in Franco’s killing; no reports have produced evidence of a motive for Bolsonaro killing Franco other than their opposed ideologies. Bolsonaro insists that he did not know of Franco until he saw news reports of her death.

Bolsonaro immediately denied the evidence the Globo program presented. He noted, as did Globo, that he was not in Rio de Janeiro on the date Franco died and, allegedly, Queiroz visited him. He was in Brasilia. The congressional record shows that Bolsonaro attended two votes, and ample news reports and social media images show him publicly attending congressional commitments in Brasilia.

Brasilia is 722 miles from Rio de Janeiro, making it impossible for Bolsonaro to drive to Rio in time to be home for Queiroz’s alleged visit.

More evidence rapidly surfaced casting doubt on the doorman’s alleged version of the story. Carlos Bolsonaro, who still reportedly lives at home 58, published a log of audio and video from the complex on the date of Franco’s death, showing that Queiroz did not visit home 58 or 36, Carlos Bolsonaro’s.

“Don’t worry, vultures, I’m making the audio for [March 14, 2018] available for homes 58 and 36,” he posted on Twitter, stating the disclosure was a response to the Brazilian magazine Veja.

Veja published a story Wednesday citing a source within the prosecutor’s office that claimed the doorman had offered two separate and dissonant statements on what happened that day. In the first, he claimed to have used the intercom to call Bolsonaro’s house when Queiroz visited; in the second, Veja said he was confronted with audio that showed no such call and “left doubts in the investigations regarding the veracity of the information provided.”

By Wednesday afternoon, public prosecutor Simone Sibilio, who has access to the files of the case, stated plainly that the doorman’s testimony linking Bolsonaro to the alleged killers was false. Police evidence showed Lessa on the intercom letting Queiroz into the complex, which spans a small neighborhood. Sibilio left open the possibility that the unnamed doorman had unintentionally erred, and not lied to implicate the president.

“The recordings prove that Ronnie Lessa is the author of the entrance of Elcio [Queiroz]. And in testimony, they [the suspects] omitted several times that they were together on the day of the crime. The doorman lied, and this is proven by technical evidence,” Veja quotes Simone Sibilio as saying.

Bolsonaro published the headline on Twitter Wednesday with the comment, “YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE! JOHN 8:32.”

Bolsonaro is currently in Saudi Arabia on a state visit. From the Mideast nation, the president broadcast a Facebook live video at 3:40 a.m. local time on Wednesday blasting Globo media for its “rotten journalism.”

Visibly in tears, Bolsonaro denied any involvement with the killing, stating, “I found out who Marielle [Franco] was when she died. I was in Brasilia, the records show it. … I had nothing to do with that. This is scoundrelry.”

“You, TV Globo, all this time you have made a hell of my life, shit! But now you try to link me … to the murder of Marielle. You jerks of TV Globo. You jerks! You scoundrels! This will not stick! I don’t owe anyone anything. I had no reason to kill anyone in Rio de Janeiro,” he said.

“This is scoundrelry, scumbaggery,” he continued, “you have no scruples.”

“For the love of God who do you think you are?” he said to the journalists publishing the report. “I know what you are: You’re scumbags! Rascals! You aren’t patriots. You don’t care about Brazil.”

“Either the doorman lied, or they induced him to lie,” he added; the broadcast was hours before the prosecutors confirmed that the doorman had, indeed, not told the truth in his deposition.

Bolsonaro went on to accuse the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, of attempting to defame him by accusing him of involvement in the murder.

He added that, as a victim of an assassination attempt, he took the murder of politicians very seriously.

“Getting you a conclusion for police isn’t easy … we also want to know who wanted to kill Jair Bolsonaro!” he said, describing “four surgeries, a lot of suffering” after a socialist stabbed him during a campaign event in September 2018.

The culprit in that case, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, told police that he had received an order from God to kill Bolsonaro. Bispo de Oliveira was a registered member of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), Franco’s party, for nearly a decade, though he was not one when he tried to kill Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro concluded his broadcast by asking Globo’s journalists, “Do you want to see my sons convicted, would that give you an orgasm?” and apologizing for losing his composure.

The comments on the video were largely supportive, including one commenter urging Bolsonaro, “Calm down, Mr. President! Protect your heart!”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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