© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Brazil’s Minister of Justice Anderson Torres looks on next to Brazil’s President and candidate for re-election Jair Bolsonaro during a news conference at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil October 5, 2022. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
By Gabriel Stargardter and Brad Haynes
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – When Brazilian rioters stormed government buildings in Brasilia on Sunday, the man tasked with keeping the city safe was a continent away in Florida – the same state his ex-boss, former President Jair Bolsonaro, had relocated to after losing last year’s election.
Anderson Torres, Bolsonaro’s justice minister from 2021 to 2022, took a job as Brasilia security chief after leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office on Jan. 1.
He did not last long. Within hours of the Jan. 8 invasion of Brazil’s presidential palace, Supreme Court and Congress by election-denying Bolsonaro supporters, Torres had lost his new gig – becoming the first to fall in recriminations after the worst assault on Brazil’s institutions since the country’s return to democracy in the 1980s.
“This was a structured sabotage operation, commanded by Bolsonaro’s ex-minister Anderson Torres,” Ricardo Cappelli, the official leading a post-invasion federal intervention into Brasilia’s public security, told CNN Brasil.
“Torres took over as secretary for security (in Brasilia), dismissed the whole chain of command and then took a trip. If that’s not sabotage, I don’t know what is.”
Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes issued an arrest warrant for Torres on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear what the charges were, but Moraes cited alleged “omission” and “connivance” by Torres.
Later on Tuesday, Torres said he would return to Brazil, hand himself over to authorities and prepare his defense.
“My actions have always been driven by ethics and legality,” he wrote on Twitter.
Ibaneis Rocha, the governor of the federal district, sacked Torres amid the chaos on Sunday afternoon, just hours before a Supreme Court order suspended Rocha from office for 90 days.
The shakeup of capital security highlights a wider challenge facing Lula, whose new government must now deal with a sweeping criminal investigation of the Brasilia riots while establishing a fresh chain of command among police and security forces.
Many rank-and-file officers have long sympathized with the law-and-order appeal of Bolsonaro’s hard-right politics, and the former president spent the past four years stacking federal law enforcement organs with loyalists.
For example, the appointment of Torres, 47, at the Justice Ministry followed years of friendly relations with Bolsonaro’s family.
As police dug into graft allegations against Bolsonaro’s sons early in his term, then-Justice Minister Sergio Moro accused the president of trying to swap the head of the federal police to protect them. Bolsonaro denied any such interference.
When Moro quit in April 2020 over the alleged meddling, Brazilian media reported that the president had suggested Torres to run the federal police, but his former colleagues there resisted the idea due to his lack of seniority.
At the time, Torres was in his first stint as security chief for the federal district under Rocha, where he remained until the president tapped him for the Justice Ministry in March 2021.
Within a week, Torres, with Bolsonaro’s approval, replaced the head of the federal police. He also replaced the head of the federal highway police (PRF) with Silvinei Vasques, whose name would hang over last year’s election.
During the Oct. 30 runoff between Lula and Bolsonaro, the PRF faced accusations of conducting illegal highway roadblocks in Lula strongholds in northeastern Brazil, in what critics said amounted to voter suppression efforts.
Vasques, who had campaigned openly for Bolsonaro on social media, was charged in November with abusing his role to favor Bolsonaro politically and was dismissed last month.
Torres came under fire for his close involvement with PRF operations during the election but did not face charges.
Formally questioned by the Supreme Court about allegations of voter suppression, Torres denied interfering in the election.