Rio de Janeiro Governor Removed during Graft Probe

Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel is alleged to have taken $50 million in kickbacks related to funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic
Photo: Mauro Pimentel / barrons.com

HAVANA TIMES – Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice has removed Rio de Janeiro state Governor Wilson Witzel from office for 180 days while he is under investigation for corruption, prosecutors said on Friday, reported dpa news.

Witzel, a former judge, is suspected of leading a scheme involving the embezzlement of public funds, some of them earmarked for the acquisition of medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The removal from office “serves to prevent him from continuing to lead the … criminal organization and from depleting the state treasury,” news portal G1 quoted judge Benedito Goncalves as saying.

Arrest or search warrants were issued for dozens of other members of the state’s government.

Some of the corrupt deals are believed to have involved the purchase of ventilators for temporary Covid-19 clinics, according to media reports.

The suspects allegedly continued “diverting and laundering resources in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, sacrificing the health and even the lives of thousands of people,” Goncalves said.

Witzel was prohibited from visiting state offices and from being in contact with officials.

The governor’s defense lawyers reacted with “great surprise” to the court order and will wait for the relevant documents before taking measures, Witzel said on Twitter.

Witzel was due to be replaced by his deputy Claudio Castro, for whom a search warrant was also issued, but who was not removed from office.

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