By Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA (Reuters) -A Brazilian senator said on Thursday that a close ally of former President Jair Bolsonaro tried to persuade him to join a conspiracy to overturn the far-right leader’s electoral loss last year.
Senator Marcos do Val told a news conference that he had been invited to a meeting on Dec. 9 with then-President Bolsonaro by his associate, former lawmaker Daniel Silveira. At the meeting, Silveira asked the senator to try to get the head of the electoral court to make compromising comments in a taped conversation that could lead to the judge’s arrest, do Val said.
The senator told reporters that Bolsonaro “sat in silence” while Silveira laid out the plot against Justice Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court judge running Brazil’s top electoral authority (TSE).
Bolsonaro had made baseless attacks on the integrity of the electronic voting system, which Moraes defended in decisions that Bolsonaro blamed for his defeat.
Silveira was arrested by police on Thursday on a warrant issued by Moraes, who accused him of disobeying court rulings and “complete disrespect and mockery” of the judiciary.
It was not immediately possible to reach representatives for Bolsonaro, who has been staying in Orlando, Florida, since late December, arriving there two days before his term ended. His party, the Liberal Party, declined to comment.
Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, the former president’s son, said in a statement that there was never any coup attempt and that his father is a “defender of law and order and has always played within the four lines of the Constitution.”
Do Val’s account is the strongest testimony yet to support accusations that Bolsonaro tried to overturn the result of the October election won narrowly by leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took office on Jan. 1.
The news magazine Veja, which first reported the alleged conspiracy, later on Thursday released an audio in which do Val says he heard the details of the plot directly from Bolsonaro in the Dec. 9 meeting. The magazine said it saw messages that proved the meeting took place.
Do Val told Veja that Bolsonaro said the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin) would provide technical support with spy equipment for the recording of Moraes.
Earlier on Thursday, Abin said in a statement that it was “absolutely not involved in any initiative,” referring to the alleged plan to tape a conversation with Moraes.
Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida 48 hours before Lula took office, without ever conceding defeat. He is being investigated by Moraes at the Supreme Court for his alleged role in inflaming riots by his supporters, who stormed government buildings on Jan. 8 seeking to provoke a military coup.
Moraes ordered do Val to provide sworn testimony to federal police within five days as part of the probe into the former president, according to a court document seen by Reuters.
Do Val, who said he was considering resigning his Senate seat, described the meeting as “a bizarre, immoral and even criminal action,” according to news magazine Veja.
Silveira told the former president that do Val, a Bolsonaro supporter, could be trusted and asked Bolsonaro to present “the idea that would save Brazil” to him, according to the Veja report.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito in BrasiliaAdditional reporting by Steven Grattan, Gabriel Araujo and Eduardo Simoes in Sao PauloWriting by Anthony BoadleEditing by Leslie AdlerEditing by Brad Haynes, Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O’Brien)