The former president is under scrutiny over reports that his administration has attempted to bring $3.2 million worth of jewelry to Brazil.
A Brazilian court has ordered former President Jair Bolsonaro to return jewels he reportedly received as a gift from the government of Saudi Arabia when he was president.
Wednesday’s decision by Brazil’s federal audit office comes days after Brazilian police launched an investigation into an alleged attempt to illegally bring a set of jewelry worth more than $3.2 million into the country.
Those Christmas balls, intended for the then president and his wife Michelle, were intercepted by customs officials in 2021. But authorities hope to recover a second set of jewels, valued at an estimated $75,000, that are believed to have entered the country undetected.
Both pieces of jewelry were reportedly presented as gifts by the government of Saudi Arabia.
Wednesday’s court order gives Bolsonaro five days to hand over all jewels in his possession offered by Saudi Arabia, as well as two weapons he received from the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
In addition, the order launches an audit of all official gifts received by Bolsonaro during his presidency, which lasted from 2019 to 2022.
The court further stated that the seized $3.2 million jewelry package would remain in the presidential offices for safekeeping. Members of Bolsonaro’s government had previously unsuccessfully attempted to release the jewelry while the far-right politician was in office.
The package includes a diamond necklace, ring, watch and earrings from the luxury Swiss jeweler Chopard. The jewelry was discovered in the backpack of an assistant to Bolsonaro’s energy minister when the staffer returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia.
Under Brazilian law, government officials are only allowed to keep gifts that are “both highly personal and of minimal monetary value,” the court’s president, Bruno Dantas, said at the public hearing.
Travelers entering Brazil with goods worth more than $1,000 must also declare them and pay hefty import taxes.
The Bolsonaro administration could have brought the items into the country tax-free as official gifts to the nation. However, they would have belonged to the collection of the presidential palace, not the president and his family.
Dantas said the presidential palace was “the rightful owner” of the items in question.
The issue has dominated headlines in Brazil since it was first reported in the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper in early March.
Last week, Justice Minister Flavio Dino announced an investigation into the jewelry scandal, calling on police to investigate whether Bolsonaro staff tried to cross the border “without complying with legal procedures” for government gifts or valuables.
Bolsonaro has denied any involvement in illegal activities, telling CNN Brazil he was “crucified” for a gift he neither asked for nor received.
On Monday, however, his attorney acknowledged the second set of gifted jewelry and said in a letter to police that he would provide a record of those gifts.
Bolsonaro has been living in the US since late December, shortly before his successor, left-wing politician Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was due to take office. Lula defeated Bolsonaro in a second-round run for president in October.
Bolsonaro, however, has yet to admit defeat. He and his political allies have alleged without evidence that Brazil’s voting system was susceptible to fraud, leading some supporters to call for a military coup against Lula’s presidency.
Bolsonaro is under investigation for involvement in a January 8 attack in which his supporters stormed key government buildings in the capital Brasília.