BRASILIA Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota resigned on Monday after one of his diplomats acknowledged that he had helped a Bolivian senator, who had been accused of corruption, cross the border into Brazil.
President Dilma Rousseff accepted Patriota's resignation but appointed him as Brazil's envoy to the United Nations, her office said in a statement.
The current Brazilian U.N. ambassador, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, will become foreign minister. A career diplomat, Figueiredo was Brazil's lead negotiator in climate change talks until his appointment to the United Nations a year ago.
Patriota's departure will help Brasilia avoid a diplomatic wrangle with neighboring Bolivia, where the leftist government of President Evo Morales was fuming over the escape to Brazil of opposition senator Roger Pinto.
Pinto, who had accused the Morales government of having links to drug traffickers, avoided arrest by seeking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz.
Brasilia granted him asylum but the Bolivian government denied him a safe-conduct to leave the country and he lived in the embassy for 15 months. Over the weekend, the Brazilian charge d'affairs helped Pinto flee across the border in a 22-hour dash in an embassy car.
Pinto's flight "created a complicated situation" for Patriota, who appeared to have been disobeyed by a member of his diplomatic corps, a Brazilian government source said.
Rousseff picked Figueiredo to succeed Patriota because she was "very impressed" by his work coordinating negotiations between rich and developed nations at the Rio+20 environmental conference, said the source, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak.
Patriota is the first cabinet member to resign his post since a flurry of ministers left Rousseff's government in her first year in office in 2011, including former Chief of Staff Antonio Palocci.
Under Rousseff, Patriota departed from the foreign policy of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his foreign minister Celso Amorim, who drew Brazil closer to Iran and Venezuela. Patriota took a more moderate line that included strengthening ties with the United States.
(Reporting by Reese Ewing, Eduardo Simoes and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Eric Walsh and Christopher Wilson)