The Federal Police has launched the so-called Operation Placebo, an investigation into corruption schemes to embezzle money from Rio de Janeiro state’s Covid-19 budget. A dozen search and seizure warrants have been issued — and federal marshals are currently at the Laranjeiras Palace, the official residence of Governor Wilson Witzel. Investigators are also at the law firm belonging to the state’s first lady, Helena Witzel.
The Feds are investigating corruption schemes in the construction of field hospitals in Rio de Janeiro. On May 14, the first stage of the probe discovered around BRL 2 million with a group that allegedly defrauded contracts with emergency healthcare units.
Since late in March, Brazil has been in a “state of calamity,” which allows public administrators to disregard strict public spending laws while the emergency situation persists.
Rio de Janeiro Health Secretary Edmar Santos was dismissed last week after corruption allegations came to light. Mr. Santos’ name was linked to a scheme to defraud the state through the purchase of 1,000 ventilators. Uncovered by the Rio de Janeiro Police Department on Wednesday, the operation has resulted in the detention of at least four people — among them the secretary’s former right-hand man, Deputy Health Secretary Gabriell Neves.
On the occasion, Governor Witzel tweeted that it is “inadmissible” that people want to use pandemic in order to siphon public funds.
Apoio as investigações que estão sendo realizadas pelos órgãos de controle e que estão identificando irregularidades. É inadmissível que pessoas queiram cometer ilícitos, principalmente neste momento de pandemia e de luta pela vida de milhões de pessoas.— Wilson Witzel (@wilsonwitzel) May 15, 2020
His recent moves, however, suggest he already knew an investigation was about to hit him. Speaking to CNN Brasil on May 19, he said the Federal Police was being used by the federal government to tarnish the reputation of President Jair Bolsonaro’s political opponents.
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