Police investigate government leader in Brazil Senate

1 / 5

APTOPIX Brazil Corruption Probe

Federal Police leave after searching the office of Senator Fernando Bezerra Coelho, the government leader in the Federal Senate, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Bezerra Coelho is one of the targets of a federal police operation into a possible kick-back scheme allegedly carried out when he was in the Cabinet of former President Dilma Rousseff, according to authorities. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian police raided the office of the governing coalition's leader in the Senate, Fernando Bezerra Coelho, on Thursday, part of a wider investigation into a possible kickback scheme.

Investigators said the personal debts of several officials, including those related to election campaigns, had been paid off by companies that had been awarded public construction contracts.

Police said Brazil's Supreme Federal Court had signed off on 52 search warrants in raids involving more than 200 police officers.

The senator, a key ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, offered to resign his position as government leader in the Senate on TV Globo. The president's press office declined to comment.

Bezerra Coelho's attorney André Callegari said he had not seen the full accusations yet, but that Bezerra Coelho will "obviously deny" any involvement.

Callegari said the investigation covered the senator's son, also a federal lawmaker.

He called the search "unnecessary" since the investigation targeted events prior to his current role in Congress.

Thursday's operation is the result of an investigation launched in 2017, federal police said, predating the administration of Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1

Authorities are looking into illegal activities allegedly carried out when Bezerra Coelho was a minister in the Cabinet of former President Dilma Rousseff.

His party later dropped its backing for Rousseff, when one of its members, then Vice-President Temer, took over. Bezerra Coelho allied himself with Bolsonaro after his election in 2018.

If confirmed, the departure of Bezerra Coelho, the president's interlocutor in the upper house, could hurt the government's efforts to pass an ambitious pension reform that raises the minimum retirement age to 65 for men and 62 for women and increases workers' contributions.