Brazil’s president has launched a homophobic attack on a journalist in a likely attempt to detract from a criminal investigation into his son’s alleged corruption.
Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected on a ticket to purge the political class of corruption, railed against media scrutiny of his racism and apparent disdain for the environment, accusing the press of bias against him and his son Flavio Bolsonaro.
Rio de Janeiro prosecutors are probing the younger Bolsonaro over alleged money laundering in his office during his 15-year tenure as state deputy, with investigators raiding several properties linked to him on Thursday.
Speaking outside the Dawn Palace on Friday, his visibly angered father was asked by a Globo reporter what should happen to Flavio if he was found to have committed a “slip” during his time in office.
“You have a terribly homosexual face, but I don’t accuse you of being homosexual,” Mr Bolsonaro – a self-described homophobe – replied in Portuguese, as a crowd of his supporters laughed.
“Although it is not a crime to be homosexual. You say ‘if, if, if’ all the time.”
Prosecutors in Rio are investigating allegations the younger Bolsonaro hired “phantom” employees – workers with no duties – while he was a state legislator.
Another investigation is seeking to determine whether he diverted part of their salaries to buy two apartments in Rio’s Copacabana neighbourhood and a stake in a chocolate-store franchise. They allege the scheme was run by his former driver, Fabracio Queiroz.
Flavio Bolsonaro posted a lengthy video to social media, strenuously denying the allegations and claiming he was being persecuted.
“Now they are attacking my chocolate shop, which was bought with my wife’s and my own resources,” the BBC reported him as saying.
“If I wanted to launder money, would I open a franchise which is subject to external checks by the franchiser and auditors?” he added.
Speaking of the Copacabana properties, he said: “I bought them from a group of American investors that was leaving Brazil and obviously I was able to negotiate a better price because it was two properties from the same seller. Can’t I buy it cheaper? Do I have to pay more to avoid suspicion?”
Some Brazilians turned to social media, posting selfies with the caption “terribly homosexual face”. Jean Wyllys, an openly gay former politician who often clashed with Mr Bolsonaro when the two served in Congress, was an early participant.
“‘A terribly homosexual face’. With pride!” Mr Wyllys, now a professor at Harvard University’s Afro-Latin American Research Institute, wrote on Twitter.
Mr Bolsonaro has a history of making derogatory remarks about women, LGBT+ people and racial minorities, including on last year’s campaign trail. Such offensive rhetoric has diminished slightly since he took office at the beginning of this year.
Asked at the morning briefing whether he had proof that a suspicious deposit into his wife’s bank account was merely repayment of a debt, Mr Bolsonaro instructed the journalist, “Ask your mother if she gave your dad a receipt,” prompting a cheer from his supporters.
He then asked whether the reporter had a receipt for his shoes. “No, you don’t have it!” he concluded.
Mr Bolsonaro also complained that details of a sealed investigation have consistently leaked to the press. “Is the process under seal or not? Answer! Answer, damn it!” he said, and then accused Rio’s prosecutors’ office of having a “direct line” to Globo’s news channel.
In a statement published on Friday, Globo said that while it took pride in delivering breaking news to its audience, it had not been the first publication to reveal information on the prosecutors’ investigations into Flavio Bolsonaro.
Jair Bolsonaro in 2013 declared himself a proud homophobe, and has claimed he would rather his son die in an accident than be gay.
In June, Brazil’s supreme court ruled homophobia a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, much to Mr Bolsonaro’s chagrin.
According to Statista, 445 LGBT+ people in Brazil were were either murdered or killed themselves in 2017. The country had the highest rate of transgender deaths in the world, with nearly half of the 445 victims that year identifying as trans.
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