Rio's new mayor launches probes targeting predecessor

·2-min read
Rio de Janeiro's new mayor, Eduardo Paes, is seen waving after voting in municipal elections on November 29, 2020

The new mayor of Rio de Janeiro took office Friday launching a raft of investigations into corruption allegations against his predecessor, an Evangelical pastor allied with Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Outgoing mayor Marcelo Crivella had already been arrested on December 22 and suspended from his job over the allegations. But the new mayor, Eduardo Paes, wasted no time piling more pressure on the man he defeated in municipal elections last November.

A veteran centrist who previously led Brazil's second city from 2009 to 2016, Paes used his first day back in office to order four probes into alleged corruption and strongarming in the Crivella administration.

"Never in the history of Rio de Janeiro has a mayor received such a perverse inheritance from his predecessor," Paes said at his swearing-in ceremony.

The probes he ordered will investigate allegations that the Crivella administration forced companies to pay bribes to win public contracts, committed irregularities in the construction of a Covid-19 field hospital, embezzled funds for protective gear and health equipment against the pandemic, and ran an operation called the "Guardians of Crivella" whose mission was to stop journalists from covering the impact of the health crisis.

Crivella, a gospel singer and bishop in the powerful Universal Church of the Kingdom of God -- which was founded by his uncle -- has denied the accusations. He says he is the victim of political persecution.

Bolsonaro, who hails from Rio, supported Crivella's election campaigns. But he has distanced himself from the former mayor since the latter lost his re-election bid in a landslide.

The president said after the elections that he would work well with Paes.

Paes, 51, presided over what many consider a golden period for Rio, when it hosted the 2014 World Cup final and 2016 Olympics.

The city of seven million people has since been beset by political and financial crises.

Paes was one of 5,475 mayors to be sworn in on New Year's Day in Brazil following last year's municipal elections.

The polls largely marked the return of traditional politicians and parties -- especially from the center and center-right -- after an anti-establishment wave swept Bolsonaro to power in 2018.

jhb/dw