BRASILIA ( Associated Press) — A former education minister in President Jair Bolsonaro’s government was arrested Wednesday in connection with a corruption investigation that could hurt the right-wing president’s re-election prospects.
Milton Ribeiro resigned in March after the local press reported talks between him and the mayors who would benefit from the budget allocation.
According to press reports, conversations revealed that Ribeiro used two evangelical clergy as informal intermediaries with mayors to help with the Bolsonaro campaign. The former minister is also an evangelical pastor.
According to reports, both the shepherds supported the municipalities ruled by their allies and demanded a bribe including one kilo of gold.
Ribeiro is accused of influence peddling, corruption, prejudice and improper use of public office. Former minister denies allegations
Bolsonaro, who initially said he would “put his face on fire” for Ribeiro, changed his mind when the former minister went to prison.
“If he is guilty, he must pay,” Bolsonaro declared in a radio interview.
“Let him answer for his actions. I pray to god that there should be no problem. But if there is a problem, the federal police is investigating. It’s a sign that I don’t interfere with the federal police because it would obviously bring me disrepute.”
Bolsonaro is facing a tough campaign for re-election. According to the most recent polls, he is behind Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ruled the country between 2003 and 2010. Elections are in October.
In one recording, Ribeiro tells the mayors that Bolsonaro told him to give preference to mayors appointed by the two clerics. Bolsonaro has denied any connection to the case.
In a press release posted on its website Wednesday, Brazil’s federal police said 13 property search warrants had been issued and five people had been arrested in connection with the case. He did not clarify whether the two evangelical pastors were among those taken into custody.