Several businessmen are being investigated over messages on WhatsApp that backed a coup should the far-right Jair Bolsonaro lose October vote to rival Lula da Silva, local media say.
Police in Brazil have raided the premises of several prominent businessmen who support President Jair Bolsonaro allegedly over exchanging messages that supported a coup in the South American country in the event of Bolsonaro losing the October election.
Tuesday's raid came days after leaked messages appeared to show the group supporting a potential coup d'etat if the far-right leader ends up losing his reelection bid.
According to Brazilian media outlet Globo, the searches were ordered by the Minister of the Supreme Federal Court, Alexandre de Moraes, who also serves as president of the Superior Electoral Court.
In total, federal police searched eight premises across five states, with warrants served in Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro, Brusque, Balneario Camboriu, Gramado, Garopaba and Sao Paulo.
According to Brazilian news portal Poder360, the individuals are being investigated for exchanging messages on the WhatsApp platform in which they allegedly said a "coup" would be better than a return to power for former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Authorities are seeking to determine whether the businessmen may have come together to "plan and support future attempts to break the democratic rule of law," a crime under the Penal Code that carries a penalty of a four- to eight-year prison sentence, according to Globo.
Bolsonaro sons slam raids
Moraes has taken further action, blocking the businessmen's bank accounts and their profiles on social networks, according to Poder360.
Last week, the Brazilian news portal Metropoles reported that the WhatsApp group discussed potential electoral fraud and the rewards of a coup if Bolsonaro ended up losing his re-election bid.
Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, one of Bolsonaro's sons, condemned the raid as an abuse of power, curtailing freedom of expression.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a congressman and another of Jair Bolsonaro's sons, tweeted, describing the raid as "clearly an operation to intimidate any notorious figure from taking a political stand for Bolsonaro or against the left."
"This is an attack on democracy in the midst of an election campaign. Censorship. There is no other word!" he added.
Jair Bolsonaro is currently campaigning for re-election in October, although most polls suggest he is behind former president da Silva in what experts have labeled Brazil's most polarised elections in decades.
For over a year, Bolsonaro has raised doubts as to whether he will respect the results of the polls and has cast doubt over Brazil's electronic voting system without providing evidence.
The October election will be the first since Bolsonaro took office as fears persist of potential political violence if the results are contested.