Brazil's Bolsonaro threatens to cancel license of network linking his name to murder case

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro said on Wednesday he could cancel the license of Brazil’s largest TV network Globo after it reported an allegation connecting him with a former police officer accused of the killing of a Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman last year.

TV Globo reported on Tuesday that on March 14, 2018, the day of the murder, the suspect told a doorman he was going to Bolsonaro’s house, gaining access to a gated community where he met instead with another former police officer accused of murdering the left-wing politician Marielle Franco.

The case led to widespread protests by Brazilians outraged to see a black, openly gay human rights advocate gunned down. Investigators arrested two former police officers Ronnie Lessa and Elcio de Queiroz nearly a year later and charged them with killing her in return for about $50,000. Their lawyers said they did not commit the crime.

Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, 2019, denied any connection to the case. He said he was in Brasilia the day of the murder voting in Congress, where he was then serving as a deputy. TV Globo’s report said that Bolsonaro was in Brasilia the day of Franco’s murder.

The president accused the media and a former ally of conspiring to attack him and his family.

“This is rotten, villainous journalism by TV Globo,” an enraged Bolsonaro said in a live video on social media, recorded at 4 a.m. in Saudi Arabia during an official visit.

Bolsonaro went on to discuss the timeline for renewing the license of the network, which is part of Grupo Globo, the largest media group in Brazil that includes TV, publishing, internet content and music labels.

“We’ll talk in 2022,” Bolsonaro said. “You’d better hope I’m dead by then, because the renewal process won’t be persecution, but … there won’t be any workarounds for you or anyone else.”

In a statement, Globo expressed regret about Bolsonaro’s comments and said its aim was to inform the Brazilian public. Referring to its license renewal, it said that it had complied with its obligations during the past 54 years.

TV Globo said the doorman to Bolsonaro’s gated community in Rio told police that someone in the Bolsonaro residence identified as “Mr. Jair” confirmed the visitor on the day of Franco’s murder and then waved off the doorman’s concern that the car went to a different house.

“It looks like either the doorman lied or someone induced him to commit a false testimony,” Bolsonaro said on Tuesday.

He accused Rio state Governor Wilson Witzel of leaking details from a confidential investigation to the press to “destroy the Bolsonaro family” before the 2022 presidential elections.

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Witzel denied any political interference with the investigation. “I deeply regret the untimely reaction of President Jair Bolsonaro,” the governor said in a statement.

Bolsonaro later told journalists in front of his hotel in Riyadh that he was asking Justice Minister Sergio Moro to question the doorman again, according to press reports.

Investigators have still not answered the question of who paid for the assassination. In September, Brazil’s top prosecutor charged five people including police officers and a former state lawmaker with sabotaging the investigation.

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