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Court gives Bolsonaro 5 days to hand over Saudi jewels

Jewelry gifted to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro by the Saudi government and seized by customs officials
— Brasília (AFP)

A Brazilian court ruled Wednesday ex-president Jair Bolsonaro has five days to hand over pricey jewelry he received as a present from Saudi Arabia, and ordered an audit of all official gifts during his presidency.

The Federal Court of Accounts (TCU), which oversees the government coffers, also ordered the far-right ex-army captain to hand over to the presidential palace collection two guns he received as presents from the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

Under Brazilian law, public officials can only keep gifts that are "both highly personal and of minimal monetary value," said the court's president, Bruno Dantas, in a public hearing, giving Bolsonaro "five days to return all items involved in this case to... the rightful owner, the presidential palace."

The unanimous ruling from the court is the latest chapter in a drama that has dominated headlines in Brazil since allegations emerged earlier this month that Bolsonaro tried to illegally import millions of dollars' worth of jewelry he and his wife received as gifts from Saudi Arabia.

The episode has turned into a legal and political headache for the ex-president, who is currently in the United States and expected to return soon to Brazil, hoping to lead the opposition to his leftist successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Brazil's former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro speaks at an event in Doral, Florida in February 2023

Bolsonaro, who denies wrongdoing, had proposed via his lawyers that he hand the jewels over to authorities pending the outcome of investigations.

The scandal erupted when newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo reported that customs officers intercepted an aide to Bolsonaro's then-mines and energy minister trying to enter Brazil with a backpack containing diamond jewelry from Swiss luxury firm Chopard after an official trip to Saudi Arabia in October 2021.

It later emerged Bolsonaro had kept a second set of jewels, also from Chopard, that entered Brazil undetected after the same trip.

Travelers entering Brazil with goods worth more than $1,000 are required to declare them and pay hefty import taxes.

Media reports have placed the value of the jewels at $3.2 million for the first set, and at least $75,000 for the second.

They could also have entered Brazil tax-free as official gifts to the nation. But then they would have belonged to the presidential palace collection, not the first family.