January 17, 2019 / 3:48 PM / a month ago

Brazil prosecutors suspend probe into funds handled by ex-driver of Bolsonaro's son

BRASILIA, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors said on Thursday they were temporarily suspending an investigation into suspicious payments handled by the former driver of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Flavio, due to a Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court ruling injunction was sealed, the prosecutors said in a written statement, and no details were immediately available about who had lodged it, or why.

Questions over the origin of funds in the bank account of Fabricio Queiroz, who for years was a driver on the payroll of former Rio state lawmaker and Senator-elect Flavio Bolsonaro, have threatened to tarnish the reputation of the Bolsonaro family, whose members surged to power on a promise to end years of political corruption.

The scandal arose after Brazil’s Council for Financial Activities Control (COAF) identified 1.2 million reais ($305,000) that in 2016-17 flowed through the bank account of Queiroz. Some payments were made to the president’s wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.

Flavio Bolsonaro, his father and Queiroz have all said they are innocent of any crime.

Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors had asked Flavio Bolsonaro to meet with them to explain the irregular cash flows on Thursday, after Queiroz failed to show up for previous appointments, citing health reasons.

But Flavio Bolsonaro said he would not meet with prosecutors as planned, saying he had only been notified of the appointment on Monday. He vowed to arrange a new time.

“As I am not being investigated, I have not yet had access to the records,” he wrote on Facebook. “I hereby undertake to schedule a day and time to present the duly substantiated explanations...so that there is no doubt about my conduct.”

Jair Bolsonaro, who took power on Jan. 1, has said the payment to his wife was Queiroz repaying a personal loan.

Flavio Bolsonaro has said that Queiroz gave him a “plausible” explanation, and that the accusations were intended to destabilize the Bolsonaro family.

In a TV interview late last month, Queiroz said the money in his account was from a side-business of buying and selling cars.

“I’m a businessman,” he said. “I make money.”

According to COAF, some of the payments to Queiroz’ bank account were made by other employees on Flavio Bolsonaro’s payroll when he served as a state lawmaker, including by Queiroz’s own daughter. Many of the deposits were made on or around the same day the employees were paid, COAF found.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Editing by Brad Brooks and Bernadette Baum

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