BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — A former education minister of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro was arrested on Wednesday in connection with a federal police corruption investigation, further hurting the far-right leader’s bid for reelection.
Milton Ribeiro left the post in March after Brazilian media reported leaked conversations of him with mayors who would allegedly be favored by the federal government in the distribution of the budget.
The leaked conversations reported by Brazilian media showed in March that Ribeiro had two Evangelical pastors as unofficial intermediaries approaching mayors who could help Bolsonaro’s campaign. The former minister is an evangelical pastor himself.
Both favored municipalities governed by their allies and demanded bribes, including a kilo of gold, the reports said.
Ribeiro is accused of influence peddling, corruption, prevarication, and administrative advocacy – meaning under Brazilian law he could have used his ministerial job to promote private interests.
The former minister denied any wrongdoing when the scandal broke.
Bolsonaro, who at the time said he would “put his face to the fire” for Ribeiro, changed his narrative after his former minister was jailed.
“If he is guilty, he will pay,” Bolsonaro said in a radio interview. “Let him answer for his actions. I pray to God that there is no problem. But if there is a problem, the federal police are investigating. It’s a sign that I don’t interfere with the federal police because it would be staining me, obviously.”
Brazil’s president is facing an uphill battle for his reelection. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leads all polls for October’s vote. He hopes to return to the job he had between 2003-2010.
In one of the recordings, Ribeiro told mayors that Bolsonaro had asked him to prioritize mayors appointed by the two clerics. Brazil’s president denied any connection with the case.
In a statement released on its website on Wednesday, Brazil’s federal police said that 13 search and seizure warrants had been issued and five people were under arrest in the case. Police did not say whether the the two pastors mentioned in the recordings have been jailed.