Brazilian politics have been thrown into fresh turmoil with revelations that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his son Flávio Bolsonaro may be linked with both suspects in a murder case.
The victim, Marielle Franco, was a politician, feminist, and human rights activist who was shot and killed with her driver in March of last year. Franco was city councillor in Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) and known for her work highlighting police brutality and the conditions in the Rio slums.
It was on March 14 of 2018 that Franco was shot and killed alongside her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes, being shot nine times, four times in the head. The hit came from two men from a separate car, with 14 bullets being fired in all. The assassination came less than two hours after Franco left a round-table discussion titled “Young Black Women Moving [Power] Structures”.
Subsequent investigations revealed that the ammunition used in the attack was from a batch bought by the federal police in Brasília in 2006 and in March of this year the police arrested and charged two former police officers with the killing.
“It was a crime against a lawmaker, a woman, exercising her democratic function who had her life taken away in an unacceptable, criminal way,”Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Wilson Witzel
The suspects have been revealed as Ronnie Lessa, 48, a retired military police officer, and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, 46, who was fired from the police force in 2005 for undisclosed reasons.
While Brazillian authorities have yet to establish a motive, they are leaning toward political motivations and a far-right motive. Lessa is suspected of being a member of one of the many militias made up of former police and army officers that run racketeering operations in the poor neighbourhoods of Rio.
Police have not ruled out that the two were working as hitmen for another figure, with some level of sophistication being seen in the attack and surveillance cameras being shut off on the street prior to the murders.
“It’s a reaction of repulsion to her political actions. Marielle defended minorities, black women, LGBT and other minority causes.”Simone Sibilo, prosecutor
Lessa, accused of being the gunman, was arrested at the same Rio condominium complex where President Jair Bolsonaro has a home and new reports in Brazil have suggested that the suspect, Queiroz, told a doorman that he was going to Bolsonaro’s house when he accessed the gated community hours before the murder in March of 2018. The doorman alleges that instead, Queiroz met Lessa at the compound and suspicious of the deception he called the Bolsonaro home to verify that everything was in order. The visit was authenticated to the doorman by “Mr Jair” from the Bolsonaro house who stated that he knew where Queiroz was.
Bolsonaro has reacted with fury at the suggestions that he was involved in the slaying, threatening to remove the broadcast license of TV Globo who aired the revelations on Tuesday.
“President Bolsonaro’s threats and insults against Brazil’s largest news broadcaster have no place in a democracy. Brazilians have the right to access news without government restrictions, and the government’s ability to issue licenses should never be used as a form of censorship.”CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick
Despite living two doors away and the fact that Lessa’s daughter is said to have dated Bolsonaro’s youngest son, Bolsonaro has denied knowing Lessa.
Yet the testimony of the doorman is not the first link between the Bolsonaro family and the case. Indeed, Bolsonaro has been pictured with alleged driver Queiroz.
Bolsonaro is also said to have links with the militia suspected of carrying out the killing through his disgraced former advisor Fabricio Queiroz, currently being probed for embezzlement.
In October of last year police arrested four other suspects in the case and accused them of disposing of the murder weapon. One of the four, Josinaldo “Djaca” Freitas, was particularly fond of posting pictures with the Bolsonaros on social media.
Officially police have discarded the connections between Bolsonaro and the suspects, yet the new testimony by the doorman once again highlights the ever-increasing number of coincidences surrounding Bolsonaro and both the murder of Marielle Franco and his links to organised crime in Rio.
Protests and vigils in memory of Marielle Franco are to be held today throughout Rio.