RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian air force sergeant accused of attempting to smuggle cocaine into Spain while working in support of a trip by President Jair Bolsonaro will be tried in both countries, Brazil’s defense minister said Thursday.
Spanish police said the man was arrested Tuesday at the Seville airport attempting to enter the country with 39 kilograms (86 pounds) of cocaine.
Brazil’s defense minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, said the failure in security on the part of Brazilian authorities violated the trust that is a part of military culture, though he called it an isolated incident.
“The officer will be judged without acquiescence by the justice systems of Spain and of Brazil itself,” Azevedo e Silva said.
The air force stressed that the sergeant worked in the cabin crew on a support plane and was at no point a part of the presidential team flying with Bolsonaro to the Group of 20 meeting in Japan.
Maj. Daniel Olivier, an air force spokesman, said the sergeant enlisted in 2000 and had served since March 2010 in the Special Transportation Group, a unit that provides transport for Brazil’s president and other high-ranking officials. He said members of the unit undergo a rigorous selection process in which a candidate’s entire history and experience are evaluated.
Under international law, the sergeant had some legal protection during his official international travel. But experts said he gave up that protection once he left the air force plane.
Olivier said the sergeant has not received legal help from the air force but the Brazilian consulate has been in contact with the accused and his family back in Brazil.
Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, campaigned for president promising to fight Brazil’s high levels of corruption and drug crime. He said Thursday evening during a live webcast that an investigation was taking place in conjunction with Spanish authorities and that punishment would be severe.