Brazil’s former top education official was arrested on corruption charges, the president said on Wednesday, noting his former aide will answer for his actions ahead of elections later this year in which graft scandals loom large for voters.
“If he is innocent, no problem. If he is guilty, he will pay,” President Jair Bolsonaro told local broadcaster Radio Itatiaia, referring to former Education Minister Milton Ribeiro.
“The government is collaborating with the investigation. We don’t condone any of this.”
In a statement, Ribeiro’s lawyer Daniel Bialski said his client’s arrest was “unfair, unmotivated, unnecessary” and that he was filing a legal motion to free him.
According to a police source, Ribeiro’s arrest is part of the so-called “Access Paid” operation aimed at investigating corruption and influence peddling related to the spending of public funds from an education development fund.
In a statement on Wednesday, police stressed that their investigations have uncovered “possible evidence” of crimes involving the use of public money.
Ribeiro resigned in March after allegations surfaced that he gave preferential treatment to two pastors for educational funding in return for bribes.
He was the third education minister to quit under Bolsonaro, who ran on a pledge to curb corruption.
When accusations against Ribeiro first emerged earlier this year, Bolsonaro called them “cowardice,” adding that he fully trusted him.
The education ministry has confirmed that a police team visited its offices, adding that it was cooperating with investigations.
The probes focus on crimes such as influence peddling, abuse of power, and other corruption-related charges. Local media said an evangelical pastor linked to Bolsonaro was also arrested in the operation.