By Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Fernando Segovia, the director general of Brazil’s federal police who spearhead the country’s sprawling corruption cases, was replaced on Tuesday, the press office of the newly created Public Security Ministry said in a statement.
Segovia, who took office in November, came under pressure from prosecutors, federal police investigators and Brazilian media after he told Reuters in an interview earlier this month that a bribery investigation into President Michel Temer had found no evidence of corruption.
Segovia was told by Raul Jungmann, the former defense minister who on Tuesday was sworn in as minister of public security, that he was being replaced by Rogerio Galloro, who has spent more than two decades with the federal police, including a 2011-2013 stint as the organization’s representative in the United States.
Reuters was not immediately able to contact Segovia for comment.
Brazil’s crackdown on graft in recent years has led to scores of convictions of senior politicians, government officials and corporate executives, inspiring many Brazilians to believe that a longstanding culture of impunity was changing.
It also helped spawn similar crackdowns elsewhere in Latin America.
But criticism of Segovia has been sharp since he was nominated to the position by Temer in November.
Raquel Dodge, Brazil’s top prosecutor, on Monday requested the Supreme Court issue an order to prevent Segovia from interfering in the criminal investigation that could result in new corruption charges against Temer.
That request related to the investigation Segovia discussed in his interview with Reuters. Authorities are probing whether Temer accepted bribes in exchange for extending a concession last year for operating services in the Port of Santos, Latin America’s busiest container port.
The port investigation is separate from other corruption cases that have resulted in charges, but no trials or convictions, against Temer.
On Tuesday evening, Dodge asked the Supreme Court to include Temer among those being investigated for possibly taking bribes from construction firm Odebrecht [ODBES.UL] in 2014. The investigation centers on a payment by Odebrecht of 10 million reais to Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement party.
Carlos Marun, Temer’s political affairs minister and one of his closest confidants, told journalists in Brasilia that any investigation into the president would only find that he committed no crimes.
In her written request to the court, Dodge acknowledged that per Brazil’s Constitution, Temer could not be charged as long as he is the sitting president for any possible crime committed before he took office, but that he can be investigated, and eventually charged once he leaves office.
Congress voted twice to block Temer from standing trial on those prior charges while in office.
Brazil’s former top prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, under whom the country’s unprecedented anti-corruption push began, told Reuters in a December interview that “Segovia was named to complete a mission – to divert the focus of the investigations.”
Segovia rejected the criticism at that time and said he would strengthen the fight against corruption.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassu; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Grant McCool)