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Bolsonaro was engineer of ‘wilful coup attempt’, Brazil congress inquiry alleges

Brazil’s former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro was the mentor of “a wilful and premeditated coup attempt” that sought to plunge Latin America’s largest democracy into political mayhem and perhaps even civil war, a congressional inquiry investigating the 8 January insurrection has alleged.

The dramatic assertion was made on Tuesday as the senator Eliziane Gama read the inquiry’s final report into January’s failed rightwing uprising in which thousands of radical Bolsonaro supporters rampaged through the capital, Brasília, after their leader failed to win re-election.

But experts are doubtful the report – considered politically symbolic rather than crucial to any future prosecution – will have immediate legal consequences for the former president and his allies.

The congressional committee does not itself have the power to charge suspects. Instead, its findings will be presented to the attorney general who will consider what action to take, if any.

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The inquiry’s 1,333-page report called for Bolsonaro to be charged with four crimes which could land him in jail for a total of 29 years: coup d’état, the violent abolition of the rule of law, criminal association and political violence. Similar accusations were leveled at dozens of key Bolsonaro allies, including three army generals who held prominent posts in his cabinet and his former justice minister Anderson Torres.

Bolsonaro, a former army paratrooper notorious for celebrating Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, has repeatedly denied involvement in January’s turmoil or seeking to stage a coup.

However, Gama, who is the inquiry’s rapporteur, said the committee’s investigations, documents and oral testimony had led congressional investigators to one name as they probed the attempt to “corrupt, obstruct and annul” Brazil’s 2022 presidential election. “That name is Jair Messias Bolsonaro,” Gama said.

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The report called January’s attacks – in which rightwing extremists ransacked the presidential palace, congress and supreme court – the culmination of a complex and highly organized conspiracy to keep Bolsonaro in power by overthrowing the government of his leftwing successor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

“The 8th of January was a wilful and premeditated attempt to stage a coup d’état,” claimed the document, on which lawmakers will vote on Wednesday.

“There was one goal only: to storm or to allow the three branches of government to be stormed, destabilize the administration, set the country on fire, provoke chaos and political disorder – and even, if necessary, a civil war,” the report said.

Conspirators hoped that by seizing control of Brazil’s democratic institutions they could trigger a military intervention such as a state of emergency “that would prevent the installation of a supposed ‘communist dictatorship’ in Brazil”.

Gama told lawmakers months of investigations had “exhaustively” demonstrated that Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president from 2019 until the end of last year, was the “intellectual or moral” engineer of such efforts.

The inquiry’s findings prompted celebration among Bolsonaro’s political rivals and critics. The congresswoman Erika Hilton called the report “an important step towards those who tried to destroy our institutions feeling the weight of their own actions”. The president of Lula’s Workers’ party (PT), Gleisi Hoffmann, proclaimed Bolsonaro the “captain of coup-mongering”.

Observers believe the real jeopardy facing Bolsonaro is an ongoing federal police investigation examining his alleged role in January’s tumult. Ten months after the attacks, police investigators continue to target the conspirators and financial backers responsible for what the congressional inquiry called Brazil’s “day of disgrace”.

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