One of Jair Bolsonaro’s key allies, the former justice minister Anderson Torres, has been arrested in Brazil’s capital in connection with last week’s alleged attempt to overthrow the country’s new government.
Torres, who was Brasília’s security chief at the time of the attacks, flew back from Florida, where he had purportedly been holidaying, on Saturday morning and was arrested by federal police at the city’s international airport.
A warrant for Torres’s arrest had been issued last Tuesday, two days after thousands of hardcore supporters of Brazil’s former far-right president Bolsonaro rampaged through congress, the supreme court and the presidential offices causing millions of dollars of damage.
The 47-year-old former justice minister had been in charge of security in the capital at the time of those attacks and has been accused of “sabotaging” police efforts to protect the buildings.
On Thursday, Brazil’s new left-wing president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said he believed the attack had been facilitated by hardcore Bolsonaristas among the security forces and presidential staff. “What happened was an alert, a major alert, and we must take more care,” the leftist veteran told journalists as a bodyguard carrying a flexible bulletproof screen stood behind him.
Torres’s return to Brazil, which received rolling coverage from local television channels, was the latest dramatic development in a week of turmoil for one of the world’s most populous democracies.
On Sunday afternoon, just a week after Lula was sworn in, thousands of Bolsonarista radicals surged into the political heart of Brazil’s futurist capital and laid waste to the three buildings in protest at Lula’s election last October.
Lula and his ministers have claimed the rioters hoped to cause chaos that might spark some kind of armed uprising, allowing Bolsonaro, who flew to the US before Lula’s 1 January inauguration, to retake power.
On Thursday, police were reported to have discovered a draft decree during a search of Torres’s Brasília home that outlined plans for an emergency intervention in the electoral court that might overturn the result of last year’s election, which Bolsonaro has refused to concede.
Analysts have called the draft decree an unconstitutional ruse to pave the way for a military coup.
Both Bolsonaro and Torres have denied wrongdoing, with Bolsonaro’s lawyer describing him as a “defender of democracy” on Friday night after the former president was included in a supreme court investigation into the incitement of the attacks.
However, experts believe Torres’s arrest and the investigation into Bolsonaro represent severe blows to the ex-president’s political future.
The newspaper O Globo reported that members of Bolsonaro’s political party, the Liberal party, believed the developments had scuppered any chance the far-right former soldier had of trying to reclaim the presidency at the next election, in 2026.
Torres became Bolsonaro’s justice minister in March 2021, the third year of his ultra-conservative presidency during which nearly 700,000 Brazilians died of a Covid outbreak Bolsonaro was accused of catastrophically mishandling.
A former member of the federal police responsible for fighting organised crime and drug trafficking, Torres had previously worked as Brasília’s security chief – a job he returned to at the start of this year under its pro-Bolsonaro governor, Ibaneis Rocha.
Rocha and Torres have been blamed for the catastrophic security failure which allowed thousands of rioters to storm past a woefully small number of troops protecting the presidential palace, congress and supreme court.
On Friday, Rocha told police he had been “utterly surprised” by the lack of resistance to the rioters and believed his efforts to protect the capital had been sabotaged.
More than 1,000 arrests have been made in connection with the riots.
Speaking to a small group of foreign correspondents on Friday, Brazil’s foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, said: “I hope that everyone has realised that the government is not messing around with this and that strong and firm measures have and will be taken in accordance with the law if there is any other kind of initiative.”