Brazil leader's ally quits amid underwear cash reports

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — A Brazilian lawmaker stepped down from his position representing President Jair Bolsonaro’s government in the senate after reports that police searching his house found cash in his underwear as part of an investigation into stolen COVID-19 funds.

Federal police targeted Roraima state’s Sen. Chico Rodrigues as part of a probe by the comptroller general’s office into the alleged misappropriation of 20 million reais ($3.5 million), Brazil’s Communications Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

Rodrigues resigned as deputy leader of Bolsonaro’s government in the Senate, according to the nation’s official gazette.

Major local newspapers including Folha de S. Paulo and Estado de S. Paulo reported police found 100,000 reais ($17,836) in Rodrigues’ house Wednesday, with 30,000 reais ($5,346) of that in the underwear he was wearing at the time.

The papers cited sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, which The Associated Press was unable to independently verify. The story was first reported by Crusoe, an online news website.

“My home was invaded for having done my job as a lawmaker, getting resources for the state to combat Covid-19,” Rodrigues said in a statement. “I believe in justice and I will prove that I have nothing to do with any illicit act.”

The federal police also declined to confirm details of the case because the investigation is proceeding under seal.

Bolsonaro won the presidency in large part due to his vow to take on crime and corruption. However, his dedication to crimefighting has faced skepticism after his justice minister, Sergio Moro, resigned earlier this year, alleging Bolsonaro had sought to intervene improperly in the federal police. There are also investigations underway that target Bolsonaro’s sons, who are lawmakers.

Shortly before the first media report about Rodrigues appeared, Bolsonaro said he would deliver a kick to the neck of anyone in his government found to be corrupt. Last week, he said the vast investigation that brought down politicians and billionaires — over which Moro presided as a judge — was no longer necessary because there is no more corruption in government.

In the capital, Brasilia, Bolsonaro repeated Thursday that his government hasn’t been marred by the scandals as have previous administrations. He also said that, unlike ministers and heads of state-owned enterprises, Rodrigues doesn’t form part of his government.

“We are combating corruption; it makes no difference who the person is,” Bolsonaro said when asked about Rodrigues’ case, adding the investigation was a point of pride. “If a government official does something wrong, it has nothing to do with me. Or better yet, it has to do with me when I send the police after him.”