Crime & Justice

Court suspends Brazilian state gov. charged with corruption

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 28 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s highest court announced Friday the suspension of the governor of Rio de Janeiro state over suspicions of embezzling public funds meant to pay for materials to be used in battling the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling came as Federal Police searched the homes and offices of 17 people implicated in the case involving Gov. Wilson Witzel, a former judge.

“It’s an outrage against democracy,” he said, insisting that there was no evidence to support what he called a politically motivated “persecution” launched at the behest of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Wilson said that the prosecutors accusing him are close to the president’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 120,000 lives in Brazil, while Wilson has implemented firm measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Rejecting Wilson’s charge of bias, the federal Attorney General’s Office said that it has “robust” evidence that links the law firm of Helene Witzel – the governor’s wife – to illicit activity.

Prosecutors contend that Wilson used his wife’s 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 on the basis of the same accusations.

“The criminal group acted and continues acting, diverting and laundering resources amid a pandemic, sacrificing the health and even the lives of thousands of people, in total contempt of a minimal sense of humanity and dignity,” Judge Benedito Gonçalves wrote in his order suspending Wilson, which will be reviewed next week by the full court.

Ordinarily, Lt. Gov. Claudio Castro would take charge of the state government in Witzel’s absence, but she is also a target of the investigation.

The speaker of the state assembly, Andre Ceciliano of the center-left Workers Party, is likewise under scrutiny from prosecutors.

The 17 people arrested Friday in the probe include Everaldo Pereira, an influential right-wing politician and evangelical pastor who ran for president in 2014 with backing from then-congressman Jair Bolsonaro.

Pereira famously baptized Jair Bolsonaro in the Jordan River during a church event in Israel.

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


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