Rio de Janeiro governor Luiz Fernando Pezao is escorted by a policeman at the Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 29 2018. Picture: REUTERS/RICARDO MORAES
Rio de Janeiro governor Luiz Fernando Pezao is escorted by a policeman at the Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 29 2018. Picture: REUTERS/RICARDO MORAES

Rio de Janeiro — The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Fernando Pezao, was arrested on Thursday over allegations he took bribes as part of the sprawling “Car Wash” graft probe.

Pezao, 63, is accused of receiving bribes when he was vice-governor of the Brazilian city under Sergio Cabral, who is in prison after being sentenced to a cumulative 180 years for corruption.

The Globo News television channel showed live footage of federal police at Pezao’s residence, where he was having breakfast at the time.

“The governor is part of the political nucleus of a criminal organisation that, over the last few years, committed several crimes against the public administration, especially corruption and money laundering,” a general prosecutor’s office statement read.

He was transferred to a police headquarters in Rio.

The sweeping “Lava Jato” (Car Wash) probe kicked off in 2014, ensnaring politicians from nearly every party in corruption allegations mainly linked to Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras. In Rio de Janeiro, the police also raided the Guanabara Palace, headquarters of the local government, searching for documents.

Brazil’s attorney-general, Raquel Dodge, issued the prison order, which was carried out by the Superior Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction over governors. The arrest warrant was based on the confession of Carlos Miranda, a former Cabral associate, who co-operated in exchange for a sentence reduction.

According to Miranda’s testimony, Pezao would have received a monthly payment of 150,000 reais ($40,000), as well as end-of-the-year bonuses of up to 1-million reais, local press reported.

The money would have been paid by companies and intermediaries bound by contracts with the Rio de Janeiro government from 2007 to 2014, press reports read. In previous inquiries, Pezao had denied participating in the scheme.

‘Operated his own scheme’

The attorney-general said that “despite having been a trusted man of Sergio Cabral and assuming a key role in that criminal organisation, even succeeding him in leadership, Pezao operated his own scheme, with its own financial operators”.

The prosecutor’s office warned that if Pezao remains free he could hinder the recovery of misappropriated assets and eliminate assets illegally acquired.

“There are records of payments in kind of more than 25-million reais between 2007 and 2015, a value absolutely incompatible with the declared patrimony” to the treasury by the governor, the prosecutor’s office said.

In current values the total value of the bribes would equal 39-million reais , investigators said.

Pezao was elected governor in 2014 by the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement, and his term was set to end at the end of 2018.

Wilson Witzel was elected in October to govern the state and is set to take office on January 1, with the state of Rio de Janeiro on the verge of bankruptcy and plagued by insecurity.

Large Brazilian construction companies such as Odebrecht, OAS and Camargo Correa have been implicated in the broad graft scandal. The investigation quickly spread throughout Latin America, sending many from the political and business elite to prison.

AFP