Murder claims may explain show's killer ratings
Tom Phillips, Rio De Janeiro
August 14, 2009
A BRAZILIAN television host accused of ordering murders to boost ratings of his crime show has proclaimed his innocence before the Amazonas state legislative assembly, of which he is a deputy.
Wallace Souza, a former policeman, is suspected of having formed a criminal organisation involved in death squads, drug trafficking and gun-running.
Police said he ordered at least five murders of drug traffickers to bolster ratings of his crime-watch show, Canal Livre, during which viewers would be offered a taste of crime scenes before police arrived.
A former policeman responsible for Souza's safety was arrested and charged in connection with nine murders, which he said were committed for a special on Canal Livre.
''The investigations show that Souza ordered crimes to provide material for his shows,'' Amazonas public security official Thomaz Augusto Vasconcelos said earlier this month.
But in a speech to the legislative assembly on Wednesday, Souza questioned the testimony against him and urged his colleagues to send a representative to follow the investigation.
Elected with the highest popular support in elections last year, Souza has repeatedly insisted that the northern state of Amazonas is the most dangerous in the country.
He claimed in this week's speech that since the accusations have surfaced, hitmen have raged on in the region. Thomas Vasconcellos Dias, the police intelligence chief behind the investigation, said there were ''strong indications'' Souza was the brains behind a criminal network with links to drugs in a city where authorities say traffickers earn nearly $US25 million ($A30 million) a month.
Most of Souza's alleged victims were criminals or rivals, Mr Dias said. ''Some were partners while others were adversaries,'' he said, adding that he believed Souza's son, Raphael, was responsible for some of the killings and had tipped off his father's news team so they could arrive at the crime scenes first.
A report by the public prosecutor said: ''The program of his father, Deputy Wallace, always arrived [at the scenes] first.''
Investigations into Souza's activities outside the newsroom began last October, following the arrest of Moacir Jorge da Costa, a former police officer who, Mr Dias claimed, told police that at least one of the murders he was accused of had gone to air on his employer's television show. Police then began investigating the MP's son, who is in jail on drug trafficking and homicide charges.
In his police statement police, Costa claimed Souza had ordered his employees to ''barbarise'' the city of Manaus to create news. Costa's arrest triggered the raid on Souza's house, during which police recovered a piece of paper belonging to Souza's son that bore the names of the dead men.
A report compiled by Manaus' public prosecutor gives details of several men who might have been killed on the orders of the politician. Among them was Alessandro Silva Coelho, 28, who was shot 20 times in July last year.
Other possible victims included Coelho's father, Luiz Alberto Coelho, who was murdered last February, and Cleomir Pereira Bernadino, 50, who was described by the local media as one of Manaus' biggest drug traffickers and was executed in January 2007. Mr Dias said the murder of a man known as Luiz ''The Flea'', which featured on Canal Livre, was also being investigated. He claimed this person was a hitman who had been hired by Souza to execute a federal judge and was killed after declining the job.
Among unsolved crimes being re-examined was the murder of Diego Rocha, 19, killed by masked men in his Manaus home in April.
Souza, who was facing an ethics committee on Wednesday, enjoys immunity from prosecution because of his position, but he could be arrested if he were removed from power, Mr Dias said.