Rio police chief swap adds to federal probe of Bolsonaro


Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro gestures as he leaves Alvorada Palace, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brasilia, Brazil May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro confirmed on Tuesday the replacement of the federal police chief in Rio de Janeiro, adding to scrutiny from the country's top prosecutor into the right-wing populist's alleged interference in law enforcement.

The change was the first move by the new national head of the federal police Rolando Alexandre Souza, a family friend of Bolsonaro who was sworn in quickly on Monday in a closed-door ceremony following a Supreme Court decision to block it.

The prosecutor general's office (PGR) said it will question the reasons for changing Rio's police chief as part of an investigation into former Justice Minister Sergio Moro's accusations that Bolsonaro was meddling in police affairs.

The popular former minister shocked Brazil by resigning last month, alleging that Bolsonaro was pushing to change management of the federal police to get access to ongoing investigations, with particular focus on Rio, where he built his political base.

Bolsonaro has denied inappropriate motives for the changes and waved away accusations that he is trying to deflect criminal probes targeting two sons who are also Rio-based politicians.

"None of my relatives are being investigated by the federal police, not I, nor my sons," Bolsonaro told reporters outside the presidential palace.

Bolsonaro said the outgoing Rio police chief had been promoted to executive director of the federal police in Brasilia, the second-highest post in the force, but essentially a desk job without a direct role in investigations.

Bolsonaro's eldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, is facing investigation by Rio state police into alleged embezzlement and money laundering during his time as a state lawmaker.

His younger brother, Rio city councilman Carlos Bolsonaro, has been targeted in a Supreme Court probe into defamatory "fake news" schemes, according to newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

Bolsonaro and his sons have denied any wrongdoing and called the investigations politically motivated.

Moro's resignation and testimony to prosecutors have set off Bolsonaro's most serious political crisis since he took office last year, eroding his support and feeding talk of impeachment.

The former minister, a symbol of Brazil's anti-corruption efforts who locked up scores of businessmen and politicians as a judge, testified to prosecutors and police on Saturday as part of the PGR probe authorized by the Supreme Court.

The court blocked Bolsonaro's first choice as top cop, Alexandre Ramagem, who runs Brazil's intelligence agency Abin and became a friend of the president's sons after running their father's security detail during the 2018 election campaign.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Paul Simao)

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