A Brazilian senator allied to far-right President Jair Bolsonaro was caught hiding money in his underwear during a police investigation into the diversion of public funds for fighting the coronavirus, local media reported on Thursday.
Federal officers raided the home of Chico Rodrigues in the northern state of Roraima on Wednesday as part of a corruption probe. The federal police confirmed to news agencies they were trying to dismantle a "possible criminal scheme diverting public funds."
Luís Roberto Barroso, a justice on Brazil's Supreme Court, said Rodrigues had been suspended from the Senate for 90 days, given the probe into the alleged misappropriation of Covid-19 funds.
Police initially found 10,000 reais (US$1,780) and US$6,000 inside a safe in Rodrigues’ house Wednesday, at which point the lawmaker asked if he could go to the bathroom, according to a police report. As Rodrigues walked away, a police officer noticed a large, rectangular bulge under the senator's shorts.
“Found inside his underwear, between his buttocks, were stacks of money that totalled 15,000 reais ($2,675),” says the police report, as quoted by major outlets including O Globo, Folha de S. Paulo and Estadão, quoting sources from the investigation.
Asked three times whether he had any additional cash stowed, the senator angrily shoved his hand into his underwear to retrieve more stacks of bills, which totalled 17,900 reais (US$3,200), according to the report.
A subsequent police search turned up another 250 reais (US$45) from inside his underwear. There is video of that search, which Barroso wrote in his ruling he was declining to provide to the Senate as it was "well within his [Rodrigues'] intimate clothing″ and could cause ″greater discomfort.″
Barroso wrote that Rodrigues’ decision to hide the money indicated impropriety and had raised the possibility of decreeing preventative imprisonment.
Rodrigues meanwhile issued a statement saying the police "did their job carrying out a search as part of an investigation in which I'm cited," although he made no mention of the cash nor where it was allegedly found. He complained that he'd had his "home invaded just for doing my job as a legislator" and insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“My home was invaded for having done my job as a lawmaker, getting resources for the state to combat Covid-19,” Rodrigues said in a statement. “I believe in justice and I will prove that I have nothing to do with any illicit act.”
Earlier Thursday, Rodrigues resigned as deputy leader of Bolsonaro’s government in the Senate, according to the government.
Bolsonaro accused the media of using the story to portray his government as corrupt. "This operation is a typical example that there's no corruption in my government, that we're tackling corruption no matter who it is," he said.
The outspoken far-right leader was elected in 2018 partly on the back of promise to fight corruption, but since he took office he's faced several scandals. They include an investigation into his son Flavio, who is accused of deviating public funds during his time as a Rio de Janeiro state legislator.
Bolsonaro is also being investigated over accusations by his former justice minister, Sergio Moro, that the president tried to interfere with police probes to shield members of his family and friends.
Late Wednesday, shortly before the first news report from online site Crusoe appeared about the police raid on Rodrigues' house, Bolsonaro said he would deliver a kick to the neck of anyone in his government found to be corrupt.
In the capital, Brasilia, Bolsonaro repeated his claim Thursday that his government hasn’t been marred by the scandals as have previous administrations. He also said that, unlike ministers and heads of state-owned enterprises, Rodrigues doesn’t form part of his government.
“We are combating corruption; it makes no difference who the person is,” Bolsonaro said when asked about Rodrigues’ case, adding the investigation was a point of pride.
Rodrigues is a member of the joint congressional committee tasked with executing the budget for Covid-19 measures.