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LATIN AMERICA | 28-04-2020 11:50

Bolsonaro names allies to head police, justice ministry in Brazil

But in blow to far-right leader, Supreme Court of Brazil authorises investigation of allegations of illegal interference of the police agency by the outgoing justice minister.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro named men considered close allies to head the Justice Ministry and Federal Police on Tuesday just hours after the Supreme Court authorised an investigation into allegations from the outgoing justice minister, Sergio Moro, that he had tried to interfere illegally with the police agency.

Bolsonaro appointed André Mendonça, an evangelical pastor who has served as attorney general since 2019, to replace Moro, and Alexandre Ramagem to serve as director general of the Federal Police.

Ramagem, who had been director of Brazil's ABIN intelligence agency and oversaw security for Bolsonaro's 2018 presidential campaign, has been photographed in the past with the president's sons. His closeness with the Bolsonaro family has prompted concern among critics that he would give them undue preferential treatment.

Leftist Socialism and Liberty Party lawmaker Marcelo Freixo said Tuesday on Twitter he has filed suit to annul the nomination. 

Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello said in a decision Monday that the Federal Police have 60 days to question Moro, whose angry resignation last week pitched the administration into turmoil, with allegations the president wanted access to police information at a time when his sons were reportedly under investigation.

"The President of the Republic – who is also subject to the laws, like any other citizen of this country – is not exonerated from criminal liability stemming from his acts," Mello wrote in his decision, which was published on the Supreme Court's website. 

During Moro's announcement of his resignation on April 24, he said Bolsonaro had told him on multiple occasions that he wanted to replace the head of the federal police with someone who could facilitate access to investigations and intelligence reports. 

Call for probe

Brazil's prosecutor-general, Augusto Aras, last week asked the Supreme Court to open an investigation into the allegations made by Moro, who made a name for himself as the top judge in the sprawling Lava Jato ("Car Wash") corruption investigation. He was by far Bolsonaro's most popular minister and, throughout a series of crises in the president's administration, his place in Cabinet helped secure the administration's base of support and appearance of respect for the rule of law. 

The prosecutor-general in his request said Moro's speech implied Bolsonaro had committed several possible crimes including obstruction of justice, and asked for the former minister to be questioned and provide evidence to substantiate his claims. Aras said in an interview Monday night with CNN's local division that the investigation will reach both Moro and Bolsonaro.

"When we opened the investigation, we weren't accusing one or the other," he said. "We want to clear up the facts."

Moro quit after Bolsonaro removed the Federal Police's director general. Bolsonaro claimed the former official had resigned of his own accord, which Moro said was untrue and also that he hadn't signed off on any resignation. 

Bolsonaro, in his address the same day as Moro's exit, denied wanting to know about investigations underway, but did not address the accusation he wanted a successor who would share information.

by DAVID BILLER & MARCELO DE SOUSA, Associated Press

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