RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian hacker claimed at a congressional hearing Thursday that then-President Jair Bolsonaro wanted him to hack into the country’s electronic voting system to expose its alleged weaknesses ahead of the 2022 presidential election.
Walter Delgatti Neto did not provide any evidence for his claim to the parliamentary commission of inquiry. But his detailed testimony raises new allegations against the former far-right leader, who is being investigated for his role in the Jan. 8 riots in the capital city of Brasilia.
Delgatti told lawmakers he met in person with Bolsonaro on Aug. 10, 2022, for between 90 minutes and two hours at the presidential residence. He said he told the leader he could not hack into the electronic voting system because it wasn’t connected to the internet.
Bolsonaro’s lawyers said in a statement they will take judicial action against Delgatti, who they accused of “bringing false information and allegations, without any evidence.”
The lawyers acknowledged the hacker met with the former president and said the far-right leader ordered his defense minister to open investigations on the country’s electoral system based on claims he had heard from the hacker.
Creomar de Souza, founder of political risk consultancy Dharma Politics, said Delgatti’s testimony “is yet another brick in a wall of problems around Bolsonaro and some of his allies.” De Souza said the former president is in deeper legal trouble because his base in congress wanted the congressional inquiry to become a platform for his defense — and it has instead put him deeper in hot water.
Bolsonaro’s political nemesis, leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, won the Oct. 30, 2022, presidential election with just 50.9% of the votes.
Delgatti said Bolsonaro wanted the attempted hack to show voters that Brazil’s voting system was not reliable.
He said that after he explained why he could not hack into the electoral system, the Bolsonaro campaign asked him to tamper with a borrowed voting machine to make it appear, less than a month before the election’s first round, that the machine had been successfully hacked and results could be compromised. The fraudulent hack was to be shared with news media, Delgatti said, but it was canceled.
When the conversation got too technical, Delgatti said, Bolsonaro referred him to the Ministry of Defense, which the president had asked to prepare a report listing potential weaknesses in the voting system for the body that supervises elections.
Delgatti said he met with Ministry of Defense technical experts to discuss the electronic voting system on five occasions. The first time, he said, was right after meeting with Bolsonaro, when he was driven from the presidential residence to the Ministry of Defense, entering through the back entrance.
Bolsonaro long stoked belief among his hardcore supporters that the nation’s electronic voting system was prone to fraud, though he never presented any evidence.
In June, a panel of judges concluded Bolsonaro abused his power by casting unfounded doubts on the electronic voting system and barred him from running for office again until 2030.
Delgatti, who rose to fame in 2019 for leaking messages from several prosecutors involved in an anti-corruption probe that put dozens of top politicians and businessmen behind bars, told the commission that he spoke to Bolsonaro one more time, over the phone.
During the call, he said, Bolsonaro told him the phone of Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes had been tapped and asked him to claim ownership of the tapping in case authorities investigated the case.
De Moraes, who at one point also led the top electoral court that supervised the election, was a recurring target of Bolsonaro and his supporters. They argued that de Moraes and the rest of the court were biased against Bolsonaro and favored his main opponent, Lula.
Delgatti said Bolsonaro promised him a presidential pardon in case he ended up being investigated for his actions.
During Thursday’s hearing, Bolsonaro’s allies in the commission questioned Delegatti’s credibility.
In 2015, Delegatti was jailed for lying about being a federal police investigator. Two years later, he was investigated for allegedly forging documents, which he denies. Several people have also accused him of embezzlement — allegations that resurfaced during Thursday’s hearing.
In Brazil, witnesses caught lying before a parliamentary commission of inquiry can be imprisoned, said Luis Claudio Araujo, a law professor at Ibmec University in Rio de Janeiro.
Members of parliamentary commissions have the power to investigate, but also pass on information to prosecutors and federal police, Araujo said.
The congressional hearing adds to the numerous legal headaches facing Bolsonaro for activities during his term in office.
Federal police earlier this month alleged Bolsonaro received cash from the nearly $70,000 sale of two luxury watches he received as gifts from Saudi Arabia while in office. Officers raided the homes and offices of several people purportedly involved in the case, including a four-star army general. Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing involving the gifts.
Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.