Federal Police targets Covid-19 corruption in Pará

Federal Police targets Covid-19 corruption in Pará
Helder Barbalho and members of his administration. Photo: Ag.Pará

Helder Barbalho, the governor of the northern Brazilian state of Pará, is one of the targets of a Federal Police operation to investigate corruption schemes to siphon money from initiatives to fight the coronavirus. Mr. Barbalho is suspected of benefiting from the rigged purchase of overpriced respirators.

Police have carried out search and seizure warrants at 23 addresses, including the state government’s headquarters in Belém. The Superior Court of Justice — which has jurisdiction to prosecute governors — has decided to freeze BRL 25 million (USD 5 million) of Mr. Barbalho’s assets.

He is the second governor targeted by the feds in coronavirus-related investigations. In May, Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel became a suspect of receiving kickbacks from contractors hired to build field hospitals and laundering corruption money through his wife’s law firm. Both governors are political rivals of President Jair Bolsonaro — a feud exacerbated by disputes over social isolation measures.

Mr. Witzel accused Mr. Bolsonaro of engaging in “political hit jobs” against detractors. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Carla Zambelli, who is close to the president, “predicted” that both Messrs. Witzel and Barbalho would be targeted by the Feds.

Talking to CNN Brasil on whether she had any inside information about an operation that was supposed to be secret, Ms. Zambelli answered no. She justified her correct guess by citing public information and mistrust in some governors. Among the figures she mentioned were left-wing governors and Mr. Barbalho, today’s target.

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