Police: Brazil TV Host Ordered Hits To Boost Ratings
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Now to Brazil, where some bizarre murder allegations read like something from a TV crime show - well, actually, they involve a TV crime show.
For years, State Legislator Wallace Souza hosted a popular show called "Canal Livre." It's something like "America's Most Wanted," and it details the circumstances of real crimes. Authorities, though, became suspicious when Souza's film crew began arriving at crime scenes ahead of the police.
Now, Souza and his son are accused of ordering of executions in an effort to boost his show's TV ratings. Souza denies that. And joining us now from Rio de Janeiro is Guardian reporter Tom Phillips. Tell us first a little bit about Mr. Souza. Who is he?
Mr. TOM PHILLIPS (Reporter, Guardian): Mr. Souza is a 51-year-old politician. It was his birthday today. And he is a former member of the civil police in the Amazon city of Manaus. Apparently, he was kicked out of the police force in around 1987 and then since then moved into politics, becoming a very popular MP.
Now, he always had a sideline in television and was the presenter of a lunchtime television program called "Canal Livre," which was a sort of typically gory Brazilian crime show and which was massively popular wherever you go in this country.
BRAND: So authorities became suspicious of him because his camera crews would show up ahead of them to crime scenes? And they think that he what, ordered up these crimes scenes or…
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yes, I think probably the competition started getting suspicious because Mr. Souza's reporters were always first on the scene and had the best images of these murders and various different crimes. The police started getting suspicious last October when they arrested a man called Moacir Jorge da Costa, who was another former military policeman and a former security guard of Mr. Souza.
And in his statement to the police, he apparently confessed to nine murders and said that one of these murders had been ordered by Mr. Souza and had subsequently been broadcast on the show.
And that led to an investigation into Mr. Souza's son, who was reportedly behind some of these homicides, and it triggered a raid on Mr. Souza's house where they found ammunition and they found lots and lots of cash. And they also found a list, which appeared to have - had four names written on it, a piece of paper with four names of dead men. And so police have also been investigating if these four hits, executions, were also related to Mr. Souza.
BRAND: And is it alleged that the son had something to do with drug dealing?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yes. The son is currently in prison on drug dealing and homicide charges. And they believe that the father and son team were part of a big organized crime outfit.
BRAND: So, if I'm understanding this correctly, the allegations are that not only was he ordering up these executions, allegedly, to be boost his TV ratings, but also to get rid of rival drug dealers?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yes, indeed. I think he was doing several things simultaneously. But as I said, I spoke with his private secretary yesterday, who completely rubbished these reports, said it's part of a political campaign against him. So Mr. Souza is very rigorously denying all of this.
BRAND: Now, I understand Mr. Souza has legislative immunity.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yes, that's right. In Brazil, people who are politicians have immunity from criminal prosecution. So, according to the people behind this investigation, the only way he can actually be arrested or formally charged with these crimes is if he is basically impeached.
Now today, on his birthday, and tomorrow, he will be up in front of an ethics committee in the local and state assembly. So if he is removed from parliament, that would leave him open.
BRAND: And his show? What's happening with that?
Mr. PHILLIPS: His show has been off the air since late last year. And while they're not saying that's officially to do with these allegations, I think, you know, widely accepted that it was taken off the air because of the investigation.
BRAND: Tom, thank you.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Many thanks.
BRAND: That's Tom Phillips. He's a reporter for the Guardian Newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro. We've been talking about the extraordinary story of a TV crime show host being accused of ordering up executions to boost ratings.
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