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Ally claims Bolsonaro plotted coup to block Lula presidency

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian magazine on Thursday released audio of a senator claiming then President Jair Bolsonaro sought help in a plot to annul the October elections and keep himself in power.

In the recording, Sen. Marcos do Val tells the magazine Veja that the idea was discussed when he met with Bolsonaro and lawmaker Daniel Silveira on Dec. 9 at the presidential residence, three weeks before leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was set to take office.

Do Val, who was an ally during Bolsonaro’s four-year term, said the far-right leader gave him the “mission” of recording Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice who also heads Brazil's electoral authority, while trying to get the judge to admit he overstepped his powers under the constitution.

“'I annul the election, Lula isn't sworn in, I stay in the presidency and arrest Alexandre de Moraes because of his comments,'” do Val quotes Bolsonaro as saying.

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Veja released the audio in response to denials the senator issued following the magazine's report Thursday morning about the purported plot, which had not cited him as its source. Do Val told reporters after the magazine published its story that the plot had been Silveira's idea and that the former president hadn't said a word during the meeting.

Later Thursday, de Moraes ordered the Federal Police to take do Val's sworn testimony within five days. Bolsonaro, who has been keeping a low profile in Florida since Dec. 30, did not comment on the matter on any of his social media channels. He recently applied for a six-month tourist visa to stay in the U.S.

Contacted by The Associated Press, Bolsonaro’s lawyer Frederick Wassef declined to comment.

The alleged meeting adds to the growing list of woes for Bolsonaro, who is already under investigation for his possible role in his supporters' uprising in the Brazilian capital on Jan. 8.

Bolsonaro cast doubt on the nation's electronic voting system for months in the lead-up to the election, and he then refused to concede defeat. His die-hard supporters have accused de Moraes of rigging the election in Lula’s favor, without offering any evidence, and of overstepping his authority by blocking social media accounts and ordering allegedly arbitrary arrests and searches.

Suspicions of a coup plot increased after police searching the home of Bolsonaro’s former justice minister found a draft decree that would have seized control of the electoral authority and potentially overturned the election. The origin of the unsigned document is unclear, and it remains unknown if Bolsonaro or his subordinates took any steps to implement the measure.

Lula said in an interview Thursday that Bolsonaro tried to stop him from taking office. He also said supporters of the former president had hoped to invade government buildings on his inauguration day but had to settle for Jan. 8, one week later.

“Now I am aware, and I will say it loud and clear: That man prepared the coup. They wanted to make that mess on January 1st, but they noticed they could not because there was too much police, too many people on the street,” Lula told the TV network RedeTV!.

Do Val told both Veja magazine and journalists later Thursday that he informed de Moraes of what was discussed at the meeting with Bolsonaro and Silveira, and that he declined to participate in the alleged plot.

Sen. Flávio Bolsonaro, the former president’s son, said he was aware of the meeting, which he described as an attempt by Silveira to persuade the other two men to do something “absolutely unacceptable, absurd and illegal.” But discussing such an idea does not constitute a crime, he said.

Silveira was arrested Thursday on de Moraes' order for violating terms of his release from prison. Silveira was previously sentenced for anti-democratic acts after issuing threats against de Moraes and other justices, but was released after Bolsonaro pardoned him. Still, he was prohibited from using his social media accounts and required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet as other investigations targeting him proceed.

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Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.