Global News

This article first appeared in infobae April 30, 2021.

A special court formed by judges and deputies unanimously dismissed on Friday the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, for corruption during the management of the coronavirus pandemic in the Brazilian state.

The decision culminated a long impeachment trial opened in June last year in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro against Witzel, who was already suspended from office by order of the Superior Court of Justice (STJ).

The special mixed court in charge of deciding on the impeachment, composed of five regional deputies and five judges, found Witzel guilty of irregularities in several contracts and embezzlement of public resources destined to the fight against COVID-19.

Rio de Janeiro is one of the Brazilian states most affected by the pandemic, with almost 44,500 deaths and more than 740,000 cases of coronavirus, according to official data.

Witzel’s dismissal confirms, definitively, the vice-governor Claudio Castro in the post until the elections of 2022. However, he is also suspected of corruption.

The collegiate body will now decide whether to strip Witzel of his political rights, which could prevent him from running for office in new elections for up to five years.

Witzel, a former judge and one-time naval rifleman, was elected governor of Rio in 2018. He had campaigned on a promise to employ an “iron fist” against crime and under the banner of zero tolerance against corruption.

At first he positioned himself as an ally of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, although he later distanced himself to become an opponent of his government.

After the outbreak of the pandemic, Witzel was the target of police operations after investigations began into his role in the alleged diversion of public funds intended for the construction of field hospitals to house patients with covid-19.

He was also accused of orchestrating a “criminal organization” dedicated to corruption and receiving bribes from a health businessman who won several of the emergency contracts to deal with the pandemic.

Based on these investigations, opposition deputies requested the Fluminense Assembly to initiate an impeachment process, which finally concluded this Friday with the aforementioned decision.

“Vilifying ethics, morals and the basic principles of good public administration, the accused oriented his relationship with the public thing with total carelessness, detachment and sordidness, affecting all the citizens of Fluminense,” said Judge José Carlos Maldonado in his vote.

Witzel always denied the charges against him and declared himself the victim of a “persecution” promoted, according to him, by the high spheres of the State. He also called his dismissal a “coup”.

“I was not subjected to a court of a State of law, but to an inquisitorial court,” the now former governor expressed this Friday on his social networks.

Rio, Brazil’s third most populous state, with some 17.3 million inhabitants, has suffered for decades with corruption in politics.

Like Witzel, five of his predecessors in the governorship of Rio were also investigated for corruption: Wellington Moreira Franco (1987-1991), Anthony Garotinho (1999-2002), Rosinha Matheus (2003-2006), Sergio Cabral (2007-2014) and Luiz Fernando Pezão (2014-2018).