Rio de Janeiro, Sep 2 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s highest court upheld on Wednesday the six-month suspension of Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Wilson Witzel pending an investigation into charges he diverted public funds meant to pay for materials to be used in battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The Special Court, a panel comprising the Superior Tribunal’s most-senior members, voted 14-1 to confirm last week’s ruling by Judge Benedito Gonçalves in response to a motion from the federal Attorney General’s Office.
Under Brazilian law, cases involving senior elected officials must be heard by the Special Court.
Prosecutors contend that the governor used wife Helene Witzel’s law firm as a conduit for roughly 500,000 reais ($91,000) in kickbacks on contracts for the acquisition of medical supplies.
In June, the Rio state legislature began impeachment proceedings against Wilson, a 52-year-old former jurist.
“I respect the decision of the Superior Tribunal of Justice. I understand the conduct of the magistrates in the face of the gravity of the facts presented, but I reaffirm that I never committed illicit acts,” Gov. Witzel said Wednesday.
The governor said that there was “no evidence” to support the charges against him and his wife, brought by prosecutors he described as being close to the family of President Jair Bolsonaro, especially to the head of state’s son Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro, who is himself under investigation for corruption.
The Rio governor and the president are both rightists and used to be political allies, but fell out amid indications that Wilson has presidential ambitions and their relationship has come under further strain because of the pandemic.
Bolsonaro remains cavalier about Covid-19, which has claimed nearly 124,000 lives in Brazil, while Wilson has implemented firm measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
Rio de Janeiro state accounts for more than 16,000 Covid-19 deaths.
Among the two-dozen other people implicated in the Witzel case are the speaker of the Rio state assembly, Andre Ceciliano of the center-left Workers Party, and Everaldo Pereira, a politician and evangelical pastor who ran for president in 2014 with backing from then-congressman Jair Bolsonaro.
Lt. Gov. Claudio Castro will take charge of the state government in Witzel’s absence, even though he is also a target of the corruption probe.
All of Wilson’s predecessors as Rio de Janeiro governor going back to the start of this century have spent time behind bars and one of them, Sergio Cabral, is serving a 294-year sentence for corruption offenses during his 2007-2014 tenure. EFE