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Brazil Supreme Court Launches Investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro

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  • Brazil’s Supreme Court has launched an investigation into allegations that President Bolsonaro tried to interfere with the federal police by firing the head of the organization, which is the equivalent of Brazil’s FBI.
  • The allegations were brought forward by Brazil’s former Justice Minister who resigned on Friday because of Bolsonaro’s actions.
  • Brazilian newspapers allege that Bolsonaro fired the chief because the federal police were investigating two of Bolsonaro’s sons: one for embezzlement and mafia ties, and one for running a criminal fake news ring.
  • If wrongdoing is found, the investigation will likely form the basis of an impeachment trial. 

Investigation Launched

The Brazilian Supreme Court officially launched an investigation Monday evening into allegations that President Jair Bolsonaro attempted to interfere with the federal police for his own political gain.

The allegations were brought forward by Brazil’s former Justice Minister, Sérgio Moro. Moro made the accusation on Friday while announcing his resignation after Bolsonaro fired  Maurício Valeixo, the chief of the federal police force, which is the Brazilian equivalent of the FBI.

In his resignation speech, Moro said Bolsonaro fired Valeixo so that he could interfere with investigations and get access to classified information. Moro also claimed that Bolsonaro had told him multiple times he wanted to replace Valeixo with someone who would let him do so.

“The president emphasized to me, explicitly, more than once, that he wanted someone who was a personal contact, whom he could call, from whom he could get information, intelligence reports,” Moro said.

The former Justice Minister also reportedly sent photos of messages between him and the president to a popular nightly news show that seemed to back up his allegations.

Bolsonaro denied the accusations during a national address on Friday and said it was well within his power to fire the police chief.

“The appointment is mine, the prerogative is mine and the day I have to submit to any of my subordinates I cease to be president of the republic,” he said.

Questionable Timing

However, some believe that the timing of Bolsonaro’s decision is highly suspicious.

Over the weekend, at least two prominent Brazilian newspapers claimed that Bolsonaro decided to fire Valeixo now because the federal police investigating a criminal fake news operation were closing in on his son, Carlos Bolsonaro, who is a state lawmaker.

According to those reports, the federal police are investigating Carlos Bolsonaro because they suspect him of being a key leader of a criminal scheme that spreads false information to threaten and intimidate Brazilian authorities.

On top of that, another one of the president’s sons, Flávio Bolsonaro, who is a Senator, is also under federal police investigation for his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scheme and ties to the mafia.

All three Bolsonaro men have all denied the accusations.

Path to Impeachment

The decision to launch the investigation is quite significant because it is the first step on the path to impeachment.

Right now, the Supreme Court has given the federal police 60 days to carry out an investigation. If they find that Bolsonaro engaged in illegal wrongdoing, those allegations could form the basis for an impeachment trial, but it is unclear how far that will go. 

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro appointed the director of Brazil’s intelligence agency, Alexandre Ramagem, to be the chief of the federal police.

Ramagem oversaw security for Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign and is reportedly a close family friend. Now, the new head of the body investigating Bolsonaro is not only an ally of his but a personal contact— exactly what Moro said the president wanted all along.

Ramagem is also a friend of Carlos Bolsonaro, according to some Brazilian news outlets, which circulated a picture of the two at a New Year’s Eve party last year that was posted on Carlos’s Instagram.

Even if an impeachment trial were to go forward, before moving to the Supreme Court, any indictment would have to be approved by the lower house of Congress, which is currently full of Bolsononaro’s supporters.

Approval Ratings

At the same time, these allegations, which have been described by some as the worst political crisis since he took office, also come as Bolsonaro has been significantly weakened politically.

Bolsonaro is a mountain of criticism for his continued efforts to downplay the coronavirus, which has killed over 4,600 people in Brazil— the most deaths in all of South America.

As a result, Bolsonaro’s approval ratings have fallen, and many of his key allies to jumped ship. Now, Moro’s departure could hurt him even more.

According to reports, Moro was one of the most popular ministers in Bolsonaro’s administration. He was well known for being the judge that oversaw the high-profile anti-corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash.

For Bolsonaro, who was elected after running on a strict anti-corruption platform, Moro brought in an important base of supporters, as well as the appearance that the administration had a strong respect for the rule of law. 

But now, Bolsonaro is likely to lose at least part of that base and that key support, and the fallout from the political turmoil is already being reflected in polls.

According to the Washington Post, one poll from Monday showed that 57% of Brazilians supported Bolsonaro’s impeachment.

However, another poll from Monday found that 48% oppose impeaching Bolsonaro while 45% of those want to see him impeached— though that difference is within the margin of error for the poll.

Notably, that same poll also found that 52% of those polled thought Moro was telling the truth and only 20% said they believed Bolsonaro’s version.

Another thing to note is the fact that there is a solid precedent for impeachment in Brazil. Just since the military dictatorship ended in the 1980s, three presidents have been impeached, the most recent of whom was former President Dilma Rousseff, who removed in 2016 for breaking budgetary laws.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (The Guardian)

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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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International

Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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