Brazil defense minister says military not directly involved in Brasilia riots

Brazil's police raided the house of suspended governor of Brasilia Rocha, who is under investigation for failing to prevent the Brasilia riots.

 Former Brazil's President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Brazil's President and candidate for re-election Jair Bolsonaro attend a Presidential Debate ahead of the runoff election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 16, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/MARIANA GREIF)
Former Brazil's President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Brazil's President and candidate for re-election Jair Bolsonaro attend a Presidential Debate ahead of the runoff election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 16, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MARIANA GREIF)

Brazil Minister of Defense Jose Mucio said on Friday that the country's armed forces were not directly involved in the riots by supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro who stormed government buildings calling for a coup.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has criticized the military for failing to act to stop the riots on January 8, a week after he took office, and said they did not provide his government with intelligence on the imminent insurrection.

Lula and Mucio met army commanders

Mucio met on Friday with Lula and the commanders of the armed forces aiming to reduce tensions. He said the riots were not discussed and the meeting focused on plans for military procurement and investments in Brazil's defense industry, with business leaders present, the minister said.

"I understand that there was no direct involvement of the Armed Forces, but if anyone was personally involved (in the riots) that will be investigated," Mucio told reporters after the meeting.

 Bolsonaro backers ransack Brazil presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court in Brasilia (credit: REUTERS) Bolsonaro backers ransack Brazil presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court in Brasilia (credit: REUTERS)

He said investigations and punishment of those found to have vandalized government buildings would be fair.

The storming of government building will not happen again "because the Armed Forces will anticipate it," Mucio said.

Lula said last week that he suspected there had been collusion by "people in the Armed Forces" and questioned how he could trust military personnel with his personal security after the insurrection.

Lula this week removed army officers from his security details and they will be replaced by federal police, his office said.

Raids on suspected supporters of the riot

Brazil's federal police on Friday raided the house of the suspended governor of Brasilia, Ibaneis Rocha, who is under investigation for failing to prevent the storming of government buildings by supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro.

Rocha was removed from office for 90 days by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes on January 8, hours after the invasion of the Congress, presidential place and Supreme court by a mob that ransacked the buildings. It was the worst attack on state institutions since Brazil's return to democracy in the 1980s.

"The goal is to seek evidence to support the inquiry into the conduct of public authorities who might have failed in their obligation to prevent the violent acts that day in Brasilia," the federal police said in a statement.

The raid targeted Rocha's house and workplaces, police said.

Rocha was not on site during the raid, which was followed by lawyers from his defense team.

"We are absolutely calm, there is nothing to hide. This raid it is unnecessary and fruitless," his lawyer Cleber Lopes said, adding that the governor had no connection to the violence.

The operation drew criticism from lawyers, as Rocha was head of the Brazilian Bar Association before he became governor. They said the raid could break the confidentiality of his clients.

"This is not a political issue, but one of respect for the rights of lawyers, and of those who need to resort to the practice of law," said Antonio Carlos de Almeida Castro, a lawyer from Lula's Workers Party.

Earlier, the federal police also carried out raids aimed at "identifying people who participated in, funded or fostered" the protests. It included 24 warrants covering five states and the capital Brasilia, it said in a statement.

Police did not disclose the names of those who were targeted by the operation but said they were being investigated for the crimes of "violent abolition of the rule of law, coup d'état, qualified damage, criminal association, incitement, destruction and deterioration of specially protected property." The warrants were ordered by the Supreme Court.

Following news of the operations, Justice Minister Flavio Dino praised police investigations into what he called "crimes against our country by coup-mongers and their allies."

"Democracy has won and will win," said Dino, who serves under leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Lula narrowly defeated Bolsonaro in an October election. The Brasilia demonstrators were protesting Bolsonaro's loss and calling for a military coup to oust Lula and restore the far-right leader.