RIO DE JANEIRO – Two police officers suspected of involvement in the March 2018 assassination of human rights activist and Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco were arrested on Tuesday, Brazilian authorities said.
The police were detained during an operation in which 15 people are accused of belonging to a criminal gang that specializes in the illegal buying and selling of real estate on the west side of Rio.
Unnamed officials, however, said the officers were suspected of leading a murder-for-hire outfit.
“We don’t dismiss their participation in the murder of Marielle Franco, but we can’t yet prove it at this time,” prosecutor Simone Sibilio told a press conference.
The 38-year-old Franco, an Afro-Brazilian, LGBT woman from one of Rio’s most crime-ridden favelas (shantytowns) who had denounced police brutality and was a staunch critic of military interventions in Rio’s slums, was killed on the night of March 14, 2018, in a drive-by shooting while riding in her vehicle in downtown Rio.
The driver of the car also died, while a press officer riding in the back seat was wounded but survived.
More than 10 months later, the crime remains unsolved, though paramilitary groups known as militias, which usually include serving and former police officers, are suspected of playing a part in it.
Brazilian media reported that one of the police arrested Tuesday, Maj. Ronald Paulo Alves Pereira, received an honor in 2004 from Flavio Bolsonaro, the politician son of current President Jair Bolsonaro.
The younger Bolsonaro, who was then a Rio de Janeiro state legislator, said Tuesday in a note that he has awarded hundreds of honors but that those who do wrong must be held responsible.
“As for the tributes paid to the military, I have always acted in defense of security agents and have awarded hundreds of other honors. Those who commit wrongs must answer for their acts,” now Sen.-elect Bolsonaro said on Twitter.
Flavio Bolsonaro was also linked to fugitive police Capt. Adriano Magalhaes da Nobrega, who is wanted on suspicion of corruption.