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Brazil’s Authorities Race to Identify Organizers of Brasília Riot

A day after arresting hundreds of people over the riot at Brazil’s capital, the Brazilian authorities turned their focus on Tuesday to the political and business elites suspected of inspiring, organizing or funding the rioters, who seized the seats of government in support of the far-right former president.

In the most dramatic example of that turn, prosecutors on Tuesday asked a federal court to freeze the assets of the former president, Jair Bolsonaro, on Tuesday, citing “the accountability process and the vandalism that occurred” in the capital, Brasília, on Sunday, when Bolsonaro supporters ransacked the Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices.

The petition was one of several moves by the authorities that highlighted the scope of their hunt to identify the ideological, logistical and financial architects of Sunday’s chaos, and to hold them to account for the worst attack on Brazil’s institutions since a military dictatorship ended in 1985.

A prominent government official was accused of “sabotaging” security at the government complex. The Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the chief of the military police. And the attorney general’s office was expected to take action against more than 100 companies thought to have helped the protesters.

The request to freeze Mr. Bolsonaro’s assets is now in the hands of a judge, but it is unclear whether the court has the legal power to block his accounts. And freezing assets, even if it were not challenged in court, could prove to be a lengthy and complex process in its own right.

The justice minister, Flavio Dino, said on Tuesday that the police were already seeking arrest warrants for “people who did not come to Brasília but participated in the crime, who are organizers, financiers.”

Riot police on Monday in Brasília.Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

A day earlier, he said the authorities had zeroed in on companies in at least 10 states that were suspected of providing financial aid for those who took part in the attack. The attorney general’s office is also expected to ask a federal court to freeze the financial assets of more than 100 companies believed to have transported rioters to the capital or provided them with free food and shelter, according to press reports.

Supporters of Mr. Bolsonaro had camped out for weeks outside the army headquarters in Brasília, espousing the false claim that the presidential election in October was stolen, and some called for the military to step in. The military and independent experts found no credible evidence of voter fraud in the election, which was won by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist former president who defeated Mr. Bolsonaro and took office on Jan. 1.

Mr. Bolsonaro had for years asserted, without evidence, that Brazil’s election systems were plagued by fraud, but after the October election he authorized a transition of power to Mr. Lula. Mr. Bolsonaro, who has been in the United States since before the inauguration, criticized the rioters on Sunday, saying that peaceful demonstrations were part of democracy but the “destruction and invasions of public buildings” was not.

In the wake of the riot, investigators also face difficult questions about why rioters were able to enter federal government buildings so easily — and whether the authorities were blindsided, negligent or somehow complicit.

Some officials have been quick to place most of the blame on Anderson Torres, who served as Mr. Bolsonaro’s justice minister before becoming the public security secretary of the Federal District, which includes Brasília.

Ricardo Capelli, who is temporarily in charge of security in the Federal District under an emergency decree signed by Mr. Lula on Sunday, accused Mr. Torres of “sabotaging” security in the capital.

Some 599 people who were detained for questioning were released from custody.Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

“There is no security force without command,” Mr. Capelli told reporters on Tuesday. As soon as Mr. Torres took over on Jan. 2, Mr. Capelli said, “Chaos ensues. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”

The attorney general has requested the arrest of Mr. Torres and prosecutors are asking a judge to freeze his assets, along with those of Mr. Bolsonaro and the district’s governor, Ibaneis Rocha, who was suspended from his post after the riot.

There are signs the military police are under investigation, as well, either for complacency or even for aiding the rioters. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Fabio Augusto Vieira, the chief of the military police in the Federal District and the official responsible for the police forces on Sunday.

By Tuesday, the police had arrested 527 people in relation to the riots and were still questioning hundreds of others, the federal police said in a statement. Some 599 people who were detained for questioning had been released from custody.

Some of those who invaded federal buildings filmed themselves and each other during the riot, giving the authorities a body of evidence with which to build a case.

But prosecuting many of those who took part could prove difficult, legal experts said, given the need to link defendants to specific crimes.

A person’s presence at the protest camp in Brasília, or even on the avenue of the federal buildings, may not be enough to convict, said Bruno Baghin, a public defender and a law professor at the School of Public Defense of São Paulo State.

“Without attributing specific conduct to each individual,” he said, prosecution cases could be “very fragile.”

Flávia Milhorance, Yan Boechat and André Spigariol contributed reporting.

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