In Brazil, the embarrassing affair of Jair Bolsonaro’s jewels

The leather jewel case was lined with dark velvet. It contained glittering jewels: a pair of earrings, a ring, a watch and a necklace adorned with dozens of diamond-encrusted pendants. The set by Swiss jeweler Chopard was estimated at nearly €3 million. Its recipient rather unexpectedly turned out to be Jair Bolsonaro.

Two weeks ago, the “diamond affair” was the talk of the town in Brazil. The press accused the former president of having tried to illegally bring the jewelry, a gift from the Saudi government, into the country. It was extremely embarrassing for Bolsonaro, whose back was against the wall and was himself still in Florida under threat of legal action.

It all began in October 2021. When he was still president, Bolsonaro sent his Minister of mines and energy, Navy Admiral Bento Albuquerque in his place to Riyadh to attend the “Middle East Green Initiative” summit, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman, known as “MBS,” in order to promote Saudi Arabia’s initiatives on climate change.

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On his return, on October 26, customs officials at Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo made a surprising discovery. Hidden at the bottom of the backpack of a military officer, an advisor to Minister Albuquerque, they found a case of Chopard jewelry. Its value was well over $1,000 and it should have been declared beforehand. It was immediately seized by tax authorities.

‘Tarnished image’

The set was in fact a very generous gift offered by the Saudi leadership to Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle. But the far-right president – who was since beaten in the 2022 presidential election by Lula – clearly did not want to hand over the jewels to the public treasury or pay large customs duties (50% of the value of the product). He ordered his minister to discreetly move “his” diamonds to Brazil.

The affair did not end there. For more than a year, Bolsonaro did everything he could to get his hands on the jewelry. On several occasions, trusted men were sent to negotiate with the airport customs. On December 29, 2022, three days before the end of the mandate, a navy sergeant stepped off an army plane in Guarulhos and threatened the customs officers: “We mustn’t leave anything old to the next [government], we must seize everything and take it with us!” But to no avail.

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The scandal was revealed at the beginning of March by the Estadao newspaper, and it continues to unfold. The press revealed the existence of a second set of luxury goods, worth an estimated €70,000, which Bolsonaro is said to have successfully smuggled into Brazil this time. Since then, the federal police, the Court of Auditors and prosecutors have picked up on the case. Several parliamentarians are in favor of opening a commission of inquiry.

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