Robson Oliveira, the driver of the Brazilian footballer thrown into a Russian prison in 2019 for bringing methadone hydrochloride into the country, has arrived home after being met at Rio airport by president Jair Bolsonaro.
Insisting that the banned substance – which is legal in Brazil – was for his Spartak Moscow-owned employer’s father-in-law, Oliveira was being held in a prison in Kashira, around 115km south of Moscow.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for smuggling contraband, but a team of compatriot journalists brought attention to the case across their homeland, putting pressure on local authorities to reach out to their Russian counterparts and help to ensure that Oliveira is now a free man.
Bolsonaro had released a statement and accompanying video which confirmed that the imprisoned driver would be returning home this Wednesday.
“I am going to give [you] news that all Brazilians are interested in: after a long negotiation, the Russian Government has announced the release of Robson (Oliveira), who worked with the soccer player, Fernando,” Bolsonaro said on Twitter.
“Robson spent two years in custody in Russia and today we extend our appreciation to President Vladimir Putin, the Russian ambassador in Brazil and our ambassador in Russia.”
Evidently following up on his promise last October to mention the case to Putin, Bolsonaro was again a man of his word when Oliveira arrived at Galeao International Airport on Wednesday evening.
Better still, Bolsonaro was waiting for him in arrivals to welcome him back to South America’s most populous nation.
Receiving Oliveira – who brandished a Brazilian flag over his shoulder –with a hug, Bolsonaro commented that his administration has “always valued freedom”.
“I had contact with Putin, who wanted to speak to the ambassador, and he could only sign Robson’s pardon after the conviction,” the president revealed.
“His sentence was 20 years in jail… [and] several authorities have entered the process. Our embassy arranged for him to be removed from the prison, to our embassy,” Bolsonaro confirmed.
Complimenting the efforts of the Brazilian embassy in Russia and Brazil’s foreign minister Carlos Alberto França, Bolsonaro again thanked the Russian government.
“We would do this for any Brazilian in a similar situation, because freedom for us is priceless,” he said.
Robson Oliveira, former driver for Spartak Moscow midfielder Fernando, has finally returned to Brazil. Oliveira spent 2 years in Russian prison after being caught bringing banned medicine into country for Fernando’s father-in-law. Fernando was accused of abandoning him. https://t.co/BE2yL1OaYl
— Liam Tyler (@tyler_lj) May 7, 2021
“Publicly, I thank President Putin and his Government for signing this pardon that is so remarkable for all of us Brazilians.”
In a video he posted yesterday, Oliveira thanked “all the Brazilian people who helped me with prayers, with hashtags [and] with support – even people who don’t know me.”
“I want to thank the players who have spoken out. I want to thank President Bolsonaro who has volunteered to help me and I also thank Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Oliveira said.
Another clip uploaded by journalist Gabriela Moreira, who was one of the driving forces behind Oliveira’s release, has also touched Brazilians.
“Robson, você não sabe nem a cara do Jorge Jesus, né?” “Não, quando fui preso o técnico era o Abel”Não viu Rafinha, Gerson, nem Pablo MariAqui uma palinha desse papo pic.twitter.com/XH5OW9JLyo
— Gabriela Moreira (@gabi_moreira) May 6, 2021
Seen by almost 500,000 users online, it shows Oliveira in a car admitting that he has completely missed the last two years of success enjoyed by his football team, Flamengo.
In 2019, under Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, the Rio giants coasted to the national title and South America’s biggest club competition the Copa Libertadores in dramatic fashion.
Watching only the first half of the final against River Plate, Oliveira had to return to his cell with his side trailing 1-0, and it was only through a visit from a Brazilian embassy rep a few days after that he learned 89th and 92nd minute goals from Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa had roared Flamengo to their first continental crown since 1981.
Oliveira also missed out on an equally tense domestic league title race that saw them become back-to-back national champions in February.