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August 24, 2023

Watch store at Willow Grove Park Mall entangled in embezzlement probe involving former Brazilian president

Jair Bolsonaro is accused of illegally selling luxury watches that had been gifts from officials in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to a local business

Investigations Corruption
willow-grove-mall.jpg STREET VIEW/GOOGLE MAPS

Precision Watches & Jewelry in the Willow Grove Park Mall made international headlines when luxury watches gifted to former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro were allegedly sold to the Abington Township store.

Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is under investigation by authorities in Brazil for embezzling gifts he received as president, including a pair of watches that were sold to a luxury watch store in the Willow Grove Park Mall in Abington Township last year.

Brazilian authorities say a personal aide of Bolsonaro traveled to Pennsylvania and sold two watches – a diamond Rolex and a Patek Philippe – to the store Precision Watches & Jewelry, according to the New York Times. The store reportedly paid $68,000 for the watches, which are said to have been gifts given to Bolsonaro by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Brazilian authorities believe Bolsonaro received at least some money resulting from the sale.

The Rolex was disclosed as a gift from Saudi Arabia, and Bolsonaro's lawyer is arguing that the jewelry is Bolsonaro’s personal property, meaning he could sell it as he wished. But the head of Brazil's watchdog court said the gifts are state property, which would land Bolsonaro in trouble. The Patek Philippe watch was never disclosed; it is believed to be a gift from officials in Bahrain. Charges of embezzlement stemming from the sale could ultimately put Bolsonaro in jail.

This is not the only legal trouble faced by the former Brazilian leader. After losing reelection to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October of last year, the far-right politician has been accused of election tampering, falsifying records, inciting a capitol riot and allegedly plotting to bug a justice from Brazil’s Supreme Court. For all of the accusations against Bolsonaro in his own country, it may be events that took place in the suburbs of Philadelphia that land him in the hottest water yet.

After news broke of a federal inquiry into the potential embezzlement, at least one of the watches was purchased back from the store. Frederick Wassef, a former lawyer of Bolsonaro’s, bought the Rolex back from Precision Watches earlier this year, according to a receipt from the store obtained and published by a Brazilian news outlet. Initially, Wassef denied having any involvement with the watches, but the receipt shows that he paid $49,000 in cash for the watch on March 14 of this year.

The receipt says Wassef was assisted by a store employee named Chase Leonard. Store owner Roman Murat did not immediately respond to interview requests from PhillyVoice, but he told the New York Times that the transaction was not unusual and that he cooperated with authorities.

Precision Watches started as a watch repair shop in Feasterville, Pennsylvania in 1991, according to the store’s website. After expanding into watch sales and relocating several times throughout the 90s and early aughts, the shop opened its current location in the Willow Grove Park Mall in 2014.