Bolsonaro’s opposition gets enough support to open new congressional inquiry

Hearings Committee Brazilian Education Minister Milton Ribeiro
Brazil’s former Education Minister Milton Ribeiro was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly taking part in corruption and influence-peddling schemes. Photo: Pedro Ladeira/Folhapress

Senators Randolfe Rodrigues and Jorge Kajuru told their peers on Wednesday evening that they have enough support to open an inquiry to investigate alleged corruption and influence-peddling schemes within the Education Ministry.

The push comes on the day the Federal Police arrested former Education Minister Milton Ribeiro. He was caught on tape saying that, at the request of President Jair Bolsonaro, he had yielded control over a national fund for the development of educational policies to two Evangelical preachers. 

Multiple mayors say the funds are conditional on kickbacks being paid out — including demands for gold and cash.

Mr. Ribeiro’s recording surfaced on March 21, and he resigned a week later. The Federal Comptroller’s Office identified suspicious financial transactions in his bank accounts, which dragged him to the center of the scandal and culminated in today’s arrest.

Federal marshals carried out search and seizure operations at Mr. Ribeiro’s home and the Education Ministry.

Requests for congressional hearings committees need a minimum number of sponsors to be approved (one-third of the Senate). A similar push for an inquiry into the Education Ministry was launched in April but fell short of the threshold. Today’s news, however, seems to have done the trick. 

Still, signatories have until 24 hours after the request is formally presented to the Senate floor to withdraw their names from the request — which gives the government some time to counterattack.

Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco said on Wednesday that he won’t impose any obstacle to the inquiry, but added that the proximity to the October general elections will disrupt the committee’s investigative work.

Congressional hearings committees last for 90 days, though lawmakers have the option of extending them for an additional 90. At least in theory, an inquiry could be ongoing by the time Brazilians go to the polls on October 2. 

Even if the works are not at full speed with lawmakers out on the campaign trail, the investigation would give President Jair Bolsonaro’s opposition a platform to bash his administration.

— Amanda Audi contributed reporting.