Top police commanders arrested over Brazil capital riots

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Authorities in Brazil have arrested top police commanders in the nation’s capital for alleged involvement in riots by radical supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro who stormed government buildings at the start of the year.

Seven high-ranking officers from Brasília’s military police were detained on Friday on the order of the supreme court, after prosecutors said the men failed to act adequately to prevent the violence and vandalism on January 8.

The justice who issued the warrant said there were “strong indications” that the criminal acts, which shocked Latin America’s largest democracy, were only possible due to the participation or wilful omission of the agents. Brazil’s military police is a heavily armed force tasked with maintaining law and order.

Prosecutors said that messages found on mobile phones of the accused showed an “ideological alignment” with the rioters, who had refused to accept the election defeat of Bolsonaro.

The hard-right populist was narrowly beaten at the ballot box by leftwing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who began his third term as president days before the events occurred.

Thousands of protesters invaded the congress, supreme court and presidential palace, laying waste to the premises before law enforcement regained control in the following hours. 

Lula has described the acts, which drew comparisons with the US Capitol insurrection by followers of former president Donald Trump almost exactly two years earlier, as an attempted coup.

The arrests come as pressure builds further on Bolsonaro and his allies over events leading up to the disturbances. 

The anti-establishment politician has already been barred from running for office for eight years for campaign violations. Bolsonaro repeatedly insisted, without proof, that the country’s electronic voting set-up was vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. 

A parliamentary inquiry into the so-called anti-democratic acts this week heard a computer programmer who alleged that Bolsonaro backers paid him to try to hack the electoral system, without success. He said the then-president offered him a pardon if he were caught. Bolsonaro has denied the claim.

The prosecutor-general’s office said the defendants held in custody on Friday, who are yet to be charged, knew of the risk of attacks beforehand, but deployed an insufficient number of officers. 

It described the men as “followers of conspiracy theories about electoral fraud” and said this influenced their actions.

They are accused of offences including a coup d’état, damage to public property and non-fulfilment of their policing duties.

A supreme court document said the targeted officials included Klepter Rosa, the current commander of the capital’s military police; his predecessor who was in charge at the time of the attacks; and five other senior members of the force. Rosa could not be contacted for comment.

Additional reporting by Beatriz Langella

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