A Brazilian senator was allegedly caught with huge amounts of cash hidden in his underwear during a Federal Police raid on Wednesday, a court order says — part of a wider ongoing probe into the possible misuse of funds for the Covid-19 pandemic response.
Senator Chico Rodrigues, who represents the state of Roraima in the Federal Senate, confirmed that the raid took place in his home in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima. He has denied any wrongdoing.
According to a Supreme Court order citing the police investigation, police video allegedly showed Rodrigues with about 15,000 reais (about $2,700) stuffed into his briefs during their search of his home. More money was found by authorities when the senator allegedly “put his hand inside his underwear and took other bundles of money totaling 17,900 reais” the order says, for a total cache worth more than $5,800.
The judge did not authorize the release of the videos.
The court order, issued on Thursday, suspends Rodrigues for 90 days to ensure compliance with the ongoing investigation.
CNN Brasil has reached out to Rodrigues’ office for comment.
However, in a statement to the press, Rodrigues suggested that the search was an attempt to tarnish his reputation. “I had my home invaded for just doing my job as a parliamentarian, bringing resources to fight Covid-19 for the state’s health department,” he wrote.
“I will prove that I don’t have and that I didn’t have anything to do with any wrongdoing,” he wrote.
Brazilian Supreme Federal Court Minister Luis Roberto Barroso wrote that the investigation was necessary to determine if Rodrigues was “using his parliamentary function to divert money destined to face the biggest pandemic of the last 100 years.”
According to the court order, “there are signs of the participation of the senator in criminal organization aimed at deviating values intended for the measures related to Covid-19 in the state of Roraima.” The Federal Police investigators also said that “the money found in the senator’s body during the raid has not had their lawful origin proven, being highly likely to result from the crime of embezzlement gains practiced due to overpriced contracts investigated.”
Senate leader Fernando Bezerra Coelho confirmed to CNN Brasil on Thursday that Rodrigues stepped down from his post as government deputy leader, saying Rodrigues wanted to concentrate on defending his reputation.
Bezerra then informed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of Rodrigues’ decision, and his withdrawal from the government leadership position was made official Thursday afternoon.
Federal legislators in Brazil are protected from criminal prosecution in most cases by parliamentary immunity.
The raid was part of a series carried out by police in their investigation into the possible misuse of public resources earmarked to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged Brazil. More than 152,000 people have died, and more than 5.1 million have been infected, making it the country with the third highest number of cases in the world.
Rodrigues had been selected as the government’s deputy leader by President Bolsonaro, who campaigned for office on an anti-corruption platform.
“I say to those who know me: stay calm. I trust in the justice and I will prove that I don’t have and that I didn’t have anything to do with any wrongdoing,” Rodrigues wrote in his statement.
Speaking to supporters outside of his official residence on Thursday, Bolsonaro pointed to the raid as proof of his anti-corruption crackdown, Reuters reported.