February 25, 2024

By Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazilian federal police on Monday searched properties linked to Carlos Bolsonaro, a son of former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, as part of a probe into suspected illegal spying on political foes during his father’s term, two sources said.

Carlos Bolsonaro, a Rio de Janeiro city councillor, was already facing a Supreme Court investigation for allegedly running a fake news factory from within the presidential palace.

He has previously denied any wrongdoing and did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Monday’s police operation that was ordered by the top court’s Justice Alexandre de Moraes, according to a published decision.

The search of his properties marks a stark escalation in the fast-moving spy probe, hitting at Bolsonaro’s inner circle.

The former president, who has already been ruled politically ineligible until 2030 for his conduct during his unsuccessful run at re-election in 2022, faces multiple legal probes that could yet land him in jail.

A spokesman for the family, Fabio Wajngarten, wrote on X that Bolsonaro and his sons were not present at their beach house in the town of Angra dos Reis when police showed up, as they had left on a fishing trip early in the morning.

He also denied reports police had seized a cellphone and laptops belonging to Carlos Bolsonaro.

The federal police are investigating accusations of illegal monitoring of citizens by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin) during Bolsonaro’s 2019-22 term.

Police served eight warrants on Monday in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and two other cities to identify “the main recipients and beneficiaries of information illegally produced by Abin through clandestine actions,” they said in a statement.

Carlos Bolsonaro is now suspected of using data illegally collected by Abin, using an Israeli software called FirstMile, which could be used to track the location of private cellphones, a federal police source told Reuters.

Asked if Carlos may have used data obtained in this manner to feed fake news against his father’s opponents, the senior officer said: “Possibly. Let’s delve deeper into this now.”

Senate chief Rodrigo Pacheco said he would send a request to the Supreme Court for the names of any lawmakers who may have been secretly put under surveillance by Abin to be divulged.

Last week, federal police launched raids targeting former Abin head and congressman Alexandre Ramagem, a Bolsonaro loyalist planning to run for mayor of Rio, who is suspected of using the spyware to track political opponents. He has denied wrongdoing.

The court order for Monday’s warrants said police were probing Carlos Bolsonaro as a member of “a group considered a criminal organization active in the Abin agency at the time it was directed by Ramagem.”

Supreme Court documents unsealed last Thursday showed that the spy agency is accused of illegal surveillance on at least three Supreme Court justices and a former Lower House speaker during Bolsonaro’s presidency.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Gabriel Araujo and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Nick Macfie, Bernadette Baum and Marguerita Choy)