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Brazil's Moro to stay on if he can pick new federal police chief - source

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro has rowed back on a threat to quit, agreeing to stay on the condition he can name a new head of the federal police, a person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

Brazil's Justice Minister Sergio Moro attends a news conference, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brasilia, Brazil April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Hours earlier, the same person told Reuters Moro had threatened to resign if President Jair Bolsonaro went ahead with plans to change the federal police chief. Moro has now reconsidered this position, the source said, instead demanding he choose the replacement for Federal Police Chief Mauricio Valeixo, who will be removed from his post.

Moro is the most popular minister in government due to his record fighting corruption as a federal judge. His exit would be a serious blow to Bolsonaro’s promise to boost the fight against graft with investigations free of political interference.

The threat of Moro’s departure and the apparent sidelining of Economy Minister Paulo Guedes rattled financial markets, with Brazil’s currency weakening 2.2% to a record low close of 5.5278 against the dollar, as the benchmark stock index fell 1.3%.

Moro’s spokeswoman said earlier on Thursday that the minister would not confirm he had said he would resign. The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a later request for comment on Moro’s conditions for agreeing to stay.

The presidential press office did not respond to a request for comment. Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo first reported Moro’s possible departure, saying he had asked to quit and Bolsonaro was working to change his mind.

Moro’s role in the government has served as a symbol of the fight against corruption, which was central to Bolsonaro’s 2018 campaign. The former federal judge oversaw Brazil’s largest-ever corruption probe, which uncovered billions of dollars in bribes and jailed scores of powerful businessmen and politicians, including leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The justice minister’s performance was rated “good” or “great” by 53% of Brazilians surveyed in December by pollster Datafolha, compared to just 30% for Bolsonaro’s performance.

Yet the relationship between the two has grown tense, especially as Bolsonaro showed interest in changing the leadership of the federal police force in Rio de Janeiro, where he built his political base in three decades as a lawmaker.

Moro and Federal Police Chief Mauricio Valeixo, who was tapped for his role by the minister, resisted suggestions for the Rio job publicly floated by Bolsonaro, leading the president to propose in August that Valeixo himself could be replaced.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell