Brazil: Prosecutor orders indictments in gay councilwoman murder

Graffiti in tribute of late councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes, murdered last year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 18, 2019 – Image: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

(Reuters) – Brazil’s top public prosecutor on Tuesday ordered five people indicted over sabotaging efforts to investigate the assassination of a Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman, and said federal investigators would take over the case.

In comments to reporters on her last day in office, Brazil’s prosecutor general, Raquel Dodge, said she would charge two court officials, two police officers, and a lawyer, with obstructing investigations into the March 2018 slaying of Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes.

A black, openly gay councilwoman, Franco frequently criticised Rio police, for their often-deadly gang-busting operations in the city’s slums, and excoriated Rio’s so-called ‘militias’, powerful organised crime groups, often run by retired and off-duty police.

Franco’s assassination sparked nationwide protests by Brazilians fed up with endemic violence, and has inspired a new generation of black candidates in Rio de Janeiro.

In March, Rio state police, who have been in charge of the investigation, arrested two former police offers in connection with the murder, but questions still swirl around the slaying, and no clear motive has been established. The murders are widely assumed to have been ordered and orchestrated by a criminal network, and public patience is wearing thin.

Concerns about interference in the probe first came to light in November, when federal officials said some witnesses had fed Rio police false information to derail the investigation.

Dodge, who finishes her two-year term Tuesday, said she was ordering the indictment of Domingos Brazão, a former state legislator and adviser at Rio state’s audit court, as well as his subordinate, Gilberto Ferreira, on obstruction of justice charges. She also ordered the indictment of federal police officer, Hélio Kristian, Rio military police officer, Rodrigo Ferreira, and Camila Nogueira, a lawyer.

It was not immediately possible to contact the suspects after business hours, but Brazão has denied the allegations to local media.

The indictments and the transfer of the murder investigation to federal authorities will need to be approved by Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice, or STJ, though such requests are generally granted.

Dodge will be replaced on Wednesday by Augusto Aras, a prosecutor appointed by right-wing President, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has said Aras agrees with his views that environmental concerns should not interfere with agricultural development.

-Ricardo Brito

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