Rio mayor arrested on corruption charges before leaving office

Judge who authorised Marcello Crivella’s arrest says the mayor is a risk to ‘public order’

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor Marcelo Crivella: he denies any wrongdoing, and says he is the victim of “political persecution”. Photograph: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor Marcelo Crivella: he denies any wrongdoing, and says he is the victim of “political persecution”. Photograph: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

 

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro was arrested on charges of corruption and obstruction of justice on Tuesday, just nine days before the end of his mandate.

Marcello Crivella was detained at his home in the west of Brazil’s second largest city as part of an operation targeting an alleged scheme operating out of city hall that was know as “Kickback HQ”.

The state judge who authorised his arrest said although Mr Crivella had only a few days left in office he presented a risk to “public order”, citing an attempt to hide evidence, specifically his mobile phone, from investigators when they searched his house in September as part of the inquiry.

Another 25 people were targeted by the operation, including businessman Rafael Alves, a friend of the mayor who investigators claim oversaw his administration’s kickback scheme.

Mr Crivella denies any wrongdoing, and says he is the victim of “political persecution”.

His tumultuous four years in office have been marked by administrative chaos, accusations of wrongdoing and authoritarianism and the promotion of his ultra-conservative social agenda.

A former minister in the government of left-wing president Dilma Rousseff, Mr Crivella is now a close ally of current president Jair Bolsonaro. He is a bishop in a neo-pentacostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God that is a key component in the far-right leader’s political base.

Mr Crivella’s bid to secure a second term ended in a crushing defeat last month when he failed to win a single one of the city’s districts in a run-off against former mayor Eduardo Paes.

In the final debate between the two men, Mr Crivella warned that his opponent would end up in jail. A clip of his prediction was widely circulated on social media following his own arrest.

Former aide

Among those targeted in the investigation of Mr Crivella is a former aide who later broke with him to go and work for Mr Paes during his successful election campaign.

The incoming mayor is also facing corruption charges relating to his previous mayoral campaign in 2012. He denies any wrongdoing.

Tuesday’s arrest is the latest blow to Rio’s political class, which in recent years has seen investigators expose rampant criminality throughout the institutions of Brazil’s third most populous state.

In August the state’s governor, Wilson Witzel, was temporarily removed from office by a state court after being accused of corruption and money-laundering and now faces impeachment proceedings.

His two immediate predecessors were sentenced and jailed for corruption, and dozens of state and city legislators are also under investigation, including two of the sons of Mr Bolsonaro.