Corruption arrest of ex-cabinet minister surprises Bolsonaro

By Eduardo Davis

Brasilia, Jun 22 (EFE).- Police arrested a former cabinet minister and two Protestant pastors with close ties to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday, while the ultrarightist leader was in the middle of his campaign for the October presidential election.

The complaint that resulted in the arrest of Milton Ribeiro, the former education minister who is also the pastor of an evangelical church, was presented in March when he was still in Bolsonaro’s cabinet and accuses him of extorting mayors and demanding bribes to release resources from that department.

Bolsonaro’s first reaction, as his public approval rating is eroding in the voter surveys and victory in the presidential race is being predicted for former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was to demand that Ribeiro “pay for his acts” if found guilty, despite the fact that several months ago when the complaint was initially filed he had said that he would not only stick his own hands into the fire for the minister, but “my face” as well.

Now, however, he admits that the case could taint him, although he said that Ribeiro’s arrest “proves” that the Federal Police “are acting” against crime and that the government, which he claims to have headed for “more than three years without corruption,” will not tolerate irregularities.

The matter, in fact, slides very close to the presidential palace with the scandal being revealed by an audiotape obtained by the daily Folha de Sao Paulo and in which Ribeiro said that the “president of the republic” had asked him to “take care of” pastors Gilmar Santos and Arilton Moura, both of whom were also arrested.

In addition, it is known that those two religious leaders were at the government palace at least 30 times and that the president’s office marked the contents of those meetings as “secret” for “100 years,” allegedly due to questions of “security.”

The head of the opposition in the Senate, Randolfe Rodrigues, immediately called for the establishment of a parliamentary commission to investigate the Education Ministry and other possible “business transactions” that the government may have had with pastors for the ultrarightist political base that supports Bolsonaro.

Rodrigues said that, besides the bribes, the pastors offered municipalities copies of the Bible, the printing of which apparently had been financed by the Education Ministry, that had inserted into the pages photographs of the then-minister.

Ribeiro was the fourth education minister to serve under Bolsonaro since he came to power in 2019 with the conviction that the department was key in defeating the “cultural Marxism” that, in his opinion, has become entrenched in the country’s schools and universities.

The scandal surrounding Ribeiro has been the latest to emerge in that ministry. The pastor had taken over the post in July 2020 to replace economist Carlos Alberto Decotelli, who resigned after just five days in the job over complaints of fakery in his resume.

Decotelli had replaced Abraham Weintraub, an ultrarightist agitator who had resigned a month earlier amid heavy pressure from the government’s parliamentary support base.

Bolsonaro’s first education minister was Colombian-born philosopher, Ricardo Velez Rodriguez, a naturalized Brazilian, who also imposed a rigid ideological imprint during his three-month tenure in office and ended up resigning after various government-supporting sectors demanded it.

EFE ed/ass/rrt/bp

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