Targetted in probe, Brazil ex-minister heads to US

BRASÍLIA (AFP) – Brazil’s ex-education minister Abraham Weintraub, a top ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, drew accusations of fleeing investigation on Monday when he tweeted his thanks to the “dozens of people” who helped him leave for the United States (US).

Weintraub announced last Thursday he was stepping down as education minister – officially to take a job at the World Bank – and left Brazil the following day, before his resignation took effect.

However, critics accused Bolsonaro of helping him flee the country to dodge a Supreme Court probe into allegations that members of the president’s inner circle ran a fake news campaign to slander the high court’s judges.

Weintraub’s resignation came a day after the Supreme Court rejected his request to be excluded from the investigation.

It is unclear how Weintraub entered the US, which currently restricts arrivals from Brazil because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Opposition politicians called for an investigation into whether he used his diplomatic passport, which they said would be an abuse given that he was no longer serving in government. The ex-minister, who has a flare for landing in controversy, fuelled accusations of trying to flee from justice with his latest Twitter remark.

“Thank you to all those who helped me reach the US safely, whether directly (there were dozens of people) or by praying for me,” he wrote.

Weintraub, whose brother Arthur is a special adviser to Bolsonaro, had become one of the president’s most polemical ministers since taking office in April last year.

He made headlines by tweeting comments that were widely deemed racist, misspelling words in official documents and on Twitter, and saying the Supreme Court’s justices are “criminals” and should be “thrown in jail”.

Brazilian media reports said he was in Miami.

His spokeswoman did not respond to a question from AFP on whether he had travelled with his diplomatic passport.

Bolsonaro opponents called on the World Bank to reject the president’s nomination of Weintraub as a director.

Tension is running high between the president and the Supreme Court, which is currently overseeing a series of investigations involving Bolsonaro and his inner circle.