Brazilian ex-president Jair Bolsonaro and his wife opted to remain silent Thursday as they faced questioning by federal police over allegations of trying to embezzle pricey jewelry and other official gifts from foreign countries.
It was the fifth time the embattled far-right ex-army captain faced police interrogation since his term ended on December 31, and the second time in this case, which involves accusations he conspired with aides to illegally sell off diamond jewelry from Swiss luxury house Chopard, a Rolex and other official gifts.
Bolsonaro and former first lady Michelle Bolsonaro "have opted to exercise their right to remain silent regarding the matters under investigation," the pair said in documents presented to investigators when the couple reported for questioning at federal police headquarters, according to Brazilian media reports.
Lawyers for the two argued federal police did not have jurisdiction in the case, and said the Bolsonaros would remain silent "until appearing before the appropriate judge."
The former first couple deny wrongdoing.
Besides the Bolsonaros, six former aides and alleged accomplices had been summoned to face questioning in separate, simultaneous interrogations.
Police are investigating allegations the group executed a conspiracy for the "illicit enrichment" of Bolsonaro.
The case could land the 68-year-old former president (2019-2022) in prison if he is convicted.
The case triggered a scandal in March, when newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo reported that customs officials had seized a set of diamond jewels -- a present from Saudi Arabia -- from a government aide who tried to bring them into Brazil undeclared in his backpack after a trip to the Middle East in 2021.
Brazilian law bars government officials from keeping expensive gifts.
It later emerged that Bolsonaro allies had sold or attempted to sell several pricey gifts in the United States.
Bolsonaro's lawyer, Frederick Wassef, reportedly sold one diamond-encrusted Rolex watch at a jewelry store in the US state of Pennsylvania, then repurchased it after the transaction came in for scrutiny.
- Bank records investigated -
Wassef denied wrongdoing as he reported to answer to questions from federal police in Sao Paulo.
"I'm the victim of a cowardly disinformation campaign," he told journalists.
"I never committed any irregularity or illicit act."
Bolsonaro had already faced questioning by police over the case in April. He denied wrongdoing on that occasion.
Michelle Bolsonaro has also denied the accusations.
"They're talking so much about jewels, I'll have to launch my own jewelry line," quipped the former first lady, who has been touted as a potential presidential contender herself.
The new interrogation comes two weeks after a Supreme Court judge authorized investigators to examine the Bolsonaros' bank records.
Bolsonaro, a polarizing figure nicknamed the "Tropical Trump," has had multiple legal woes since losing his re-election bid to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a divisive election last year.
Police have also questioned him over allegedly fake Covid-19 vaccination certificates for himself and his inner circle, a suspected coup plot, and his alleged role in riots by supporters who invaded the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court on January 8.
In June, Bolsonaro was also barred from running for public office for eight years by electoral authorities over his public attacks on the credibility of the election system.