Video: Bolsonaro, Facing Investigations, Hid at Hungarian Embassy

On Feb. 8, Brazil’s federal police confiscated former President Jair Bolsonaro’s passport and arrested a pair of his former aides on accusations that they had plotted a coup after Mr. Bolsonaro lost the 2022 presidential election.

Four days later, Mr. Bolsonaro was at the entrance to the Hungarian Embassy in Brazil, waiting to be let in, according to the embassy’s security-camera footage, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The former president appeared to stay at the embassy for the next two days, the footage showed, accompanied by two security guards and waited on by the Hungarian ambassador and staff members. Mr. Bolsonaro, a target of various criminal investigations, cannot be arrested at a foreign embassy that welcomes him, because they are legally off-limits to domestic authorities.

The stay at the embassy suggests that the former president was seeking to leverage his friendship with a fellow far-right leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, into an attempt to evade the Brazilian justice system as he faces criminal investigations at home.

The Times analyzed three days’ worth of footage from four cameras in the Hungarian Embassy showing that Mr. Bolsonaro arrived late on Monday, Feb. 12, and left the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 14. In between, he mostly stayed out of sight.

The Times verified the footage by matching it with images of the embassy, including satellite imagery that showed the car in which Mr. Bolsonaro arrived parked in the driveway on Feb. 13.

A Hungarian Embassy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal affairs, confirmed the plan to host Mr. Bolsonaro.

After this article was published, Mr. Bolsonaro confirmed his stay at the embassy. “I won’t deny I was at the embassy,” he told Metrópoles, a Brazilian news outlet, on Monday. “I have a circle of friends with some world leaders. They’re worried.”

Mr. Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Paulo Cunha Bueno, said in a statement Monday that the former president stayed at the embassy to discuss politics with Hungarian diplomats. “Any other interpretations,’’ he said, “are clearly fictional works. In practice, just another piece of fake news.”

The Hungarian Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Bolsonaro and Mr. Orban have had a close relationship for years, finding common ground as two of the most far-right leaders in democratic nations.

Mr. Bolsonaro called Mr. Orban his “brother” during a visit to Hungary in 2022. Later that year, Hungary’s foreign minister asked a Bolsonaro administration official if Hungary could do anything to help re-elect Mr. Bolsonaro, according to the Brazilian government’s summary of his comments.

In December, Mr. Bolsonaro and Mr. Orban met in Buenos Aires at the inauguration of Argentina’s new right-wing president, Javier Milei. There, Mr. Orban called Mr. Bolsonaro a “hero.”

Mr. Bolsonaro faces deepening criminal investigations in Brazil. In the 15 months since he left office, his home has been searched, his cellphone and passport confiscated, and several of his allies and former aides arrested.

The cases that target Mr. Bolsonaro involve a variety of accusations, including that he took part in plots to sell jewelry he received as state gifts while he was president and falsified his Covid-19 vaccination records in order to travel to the United States. Brazil’s federal police last week recommended criminal charges against the former president in the case involving the fake Covid-19 vaccine cards, but prosecutors have yet to weigh in.

In the most serious accusations, the police have said that Mr. Bolsonaro plotted with several of his top ministers and aides to try to hold onto power after he was defeated in the election. The police arrested some of his top allies on Feb. 8 and raided the homes of others.

Hours later, Mr. Orban posted a message of encouragement for Mr. Bolsonaro, calling him “an honest patriot” and telling him to “keep on fighting.”

On Feb. 12, four days later, Mr. Bolsonaro posted a video online calling his supporters to a rally in São Paulo that month. “I want to defend myself from all these accusations,” he said in the video. “Until then, God willing.”

Later that day, he went to the Hungarian Embassy. In the moments before his arrival, security footage shows Miklós Halmai, the country’s ambassador to Brazil, pacing and typing on his phone. The small embassy was mostly empty, except for the handful of Hungarian diplomats who live there. Local staff members were on vacation, because Mr. Bolsonaro’s stay came in the middle of Brazil’s national Carnival celebrations.

At 9:34 p.m., a black car appeared at the embassy gate. A man got out, eventually clapping to get the attention of someone inside. Three minutes later, Mr. Halmai opened the gate and indicated where to park.

Mr. Bolsonaro and two men who appeared to be security guards exited the vehicle. Mr. Halmai led them inside. After chatting briefly, the four men got into an elevator.

Over the next two hours, embassy staff made several trips toward an area of the building where there were two guest apartments, according to the footage and the embassy official. They carried bedding, water and other items, until activity stopped at about 11:40 p.m.

The next morning, at 7:26 a.m., Mr. Halmai walked from the residential area and typed on his phone. A half-hour later, the ambassador and another man brought a coffee maker to the residential area.

For the rest of the day, the Hungarian staff mulled around the embassy grounds, including parents with a child.

In the early evening, Mr. Bolsonaro strolled around the embassy parking lot with one of his security guards.

Twice, Mr. Bolsonaro’s security guards left. Around lunch, a guard returned with what appeared to be a pizza.

At 8:38 p.m., a guard drove back into the embassy parking lot with another man in the back seat. Carrying a bag, that man entered the residential area where Mr. Bolsonaro appeared to be staying. The man left 38 minutes later.

As the car departed, a man who resembled Mr. Bolsonaro exited the residential area to watch.

On Feb. 14, the Hungarian diplomats contacted their local Brazilian staff members, who were scheduled to return to work the next day, telling them to stay home for the rest of the week, according to the embassy official. They did not explain why, the official said.

That day, Mr. Bolsonaro is first spotted in the security-camera footage at 4:14 p.m., when he and his two guards exited the residential area carrying two backpacks and headed directly for their car. Mr. Halmai trailed behind. The ambassador watched the car pull out and waved goodbye.

The specter of prison time for Mr. Bolsonaro has prompted wide speculation that he might try to flee justice. Two of his sons have applied for Italian passports, prompting the country’s foreign minister to publicly deny that Mr. Bolsonaro, who has Italian heritage, had also sought citizenship.

The evening before he left office, Mr. Bolsonaro flew to Florida and stayed for three months. One of his most prominent supporters, a far-right pundit named Allan dos Santos, has been able to avoid arrest in Brazil on accusations that he threatened federal judges as he has sought political asylum in the United States.

Two weeks after Mr. Bolsonaro’s departure from the embassy — it is unclear why he left — he held the planned rally in São Paulo. Independent observers estimated that 185,000 supporters attended. At the rally, Mr. Bolsonaro repeated his defense that he was the victim of political persecution.

He and his lawyers have argued that Brazil’s Supreme Court abused its power, meddled in the 2022 election and is now trying to jail him and his allies. They have recently pointed to recordings of a former Bolsonaro aide, whose confessions have become key to the investigations, claiming that investigators have a predetermined narrative that Mr. Bolsonaro is guilty.

In the weeks since, Mr. Bolsonaro’s legal woes have worsened. The country’s Supreme Court released documents that showed the leaders of Brazil’s Army and Air Force told the police that, after losing the 2022 election, Mr. Bolsonaro presented military leaders with a plan to overturn the results. The military leaders told the police they refused and warned the former president they might arrest him if he tried to do so.

Mr. Bolsonaro said this month that he was not worried about being arrested.

“I could very well be in another country, but I decided to come back here at all costs,” he said at a political event. “I’m not afraid.”

Video production by Natalie Reneau.

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