Brazil’s foreign ministry has summoned the Hungarian ambassador to explain why the South American country’s embattled former president Jair Bolsonaro spent two nights “hiding” at Hungary’s embassy in Brasília last month as federal police investigators closed in on some of his closest allies.

Security footage obtained by the New York Times showed that in early February – four days after two Bolsonaro aides were arrested on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the Brazilian government – the rightwing populist took shelter in the embassy, a short drive from the presidential palace Bolsonaro once occupied.

The New York Times said Bolsonaro’s embassy stay suggested he was “seeking to leverage his friendship with a fellow far-right leader, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, into an attempt to evade the Brazilian justice system as he faces criminal investigations at home”.

On Monday Bolsonaro confirmed the report, telling the Brazilian website Metrópoles: “I won’t deny that I was in the embassy … I won’t say where else I’ve been. I have a circle of friends with some heads of state around the world. They are worried. I talk to them about matters in our country’s interest. Full stop. The rest is speculation,” he was quoted as saying.

In a statement, the former president’s lawyers said he had been in the embassy “to keep in touch with the authorities of a friendly country”. Alternative interpretations amounted to “a work of fiction, with no connection to the reality of the facts” and were “fake news”, it added.

Bolsonaro, who lost power in late 2022 after being beaten in the presidential election by his leftist rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is facing a series of criminal investigations relating to claims that he faked Covid vaccination records, sought to siphon off expensive foreign gifts and, most seriously, that he plotted to topple the government of his successor.

On 8 February Bolsonaro was forced to surrender his passport as part of the federal police investigation into the alleged attempted coup on 8 January 2023 when Bolsonaro supporters ran riot in the capital. Two close aides, Marcelo Costa Câmara and Filipe Martins, were arrested and addresses linked to powerful former members of Bolsonaro’s administration searched.

That evening, Orbán tweeted a photograph in which he appeared shaking Bolsonaro’s hands and offered some words of support. “An honest patriot. Keep on fighting, Mr. President!”

Four days later, at 9.34pm on Monday 12 February, a black saloon car appeared at the gate of Hungary’s embassy in Brazil, according to the images obtained by the New York Times. Three minutes later the ambassador, Miklós Halmai, appeared to let his visitor in. Bolsonaro was taken inside.

The former president reportedly remained at the embassy until the afternoon of 14 February when the ambassador waved him off.

Bolsonaro did not make clear why he had decided to visit the embassy. However, he has publicly voiced fears of meeting the same fate as Bolivia’s former president, Jeanine Áñez. In 2022, Áñez was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of helping orchestrate an alleged 2019 coup that brought her to power after the fall of President Evo Morales.

Before his election defeat, Bolsonaro said he saw only three possible futures for himself: prison, death or victory. The New York Times’s video suggests a fourth alternative may now be under consideration: a new life as a lodger in the Hungarian embassy, where under international law he cannot be arrested.

Reports of Bolsonaro’s two-day break at the embassy prompted calls for him to be detained to prevent him from escaping justice. “Bolsonaro’s attempt to hide himself in the embassy is a classic motive for preventive detention,” Augusto de Arruda Botelho, the former national secretary of justice, tweeted

Many social media users mocked the former president using the hashtag ‘Bolsonaro fujão’, which translates roughly as Bolsorunaway.

The Hungarian ambassador reportedly remained silent during his 20-minute meeting with Brazilian diplomats on Monday afternoon.

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