Dispute Over Mysterious Saudi Jewelry Worth $3 Million Haunts Bolsonaro

(Bloomberg) — A dispute over $3 million worth of jewelry allegedly from Saudi Arabia is set to present another headache for former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro when he returns home from his US vacation.

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Brazil’s national comptroller on Tuesday started probing the case, which involves a cache of jewelry — including a diamond necklace, earrings and a watch made by the Swiss brand Chopard. Bolsonaro’s former Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque confirmed over the weekend that his delegation brought the items into the country — now run by leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — as a gift from the Saudi government to Bolsonaro and his wife, Michelle, without declaring them to customs agents.

The country’s federal police also launched an investigation at the request of the justice ministry.

The case came to public attention on March 3 when newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported that Brazilian customs officials seized jewelry found inside a suitcase carried by an aide to Albuquerque as they returned from an official trip to the Middle East last October. Brazilian law requires travelers to declare goods worth more than $1,000 for tax purposes, but Albuquerque’s team failed to do so.

Public outrage has been growing in Brazil as details of the case emerge. Brazilian officials aren’t allowed to keep most valuable gifts they receive, and have to place them in public collections maintained by the state. The investigation will seek to discover whether Bolsonaro or his associates were attempting to smuggle the jewelry into Brazil, and if they sought to shield the gift from entering the president’s official collection, which would make it government property, according to the justice ministry. Potential money laundering crimes will also be considered, according to Justice Minister Flavio Dino.

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