Rio's evangelical mayor, a Bolsonaro ally, arrested on graft charges

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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -Rio de Janeiro’s outgoing mayor was arrested on Tuesday on graft allegations in an embarrassment for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, an ideological ally and anti-corruption campaigner who had backed the mayor’s failed re-election bid.

Marcelo Crivella, who was arrested at home in western Rio just nine days before the end of his term, denied any wrongdoing and said he was the target of political persecution.

“I am innocent and I don’t know what is going on,” Crivella told reporters after his arrest.

A former evangelical pastor, Crivella is the nephew of billionaire preacher Edir Macedo, one of Brazil’s wealthiest men and most politically connected religious leaders. The support of figures such as Macedo and Brazil’s huge evangelical voting bloc was crucial to the far-right Bolsonaro’s 2018 election victory.

Bolsonaro endorsed Crivella’s re-election attempt, which the unpopular mayor lost, drawing just 36% of votes in a November run-off vote. Crivella’s arrest poses awkward questions for the president, who has railed against corruption in previous administrations and pledged to clean up Brazil’s dirty politics.

Crivella is just the latest Rio politician to be arrested over suspected graft. Rio state Governor Wilson Witzel was suspended from office on Aug. 28 on concerns he would interfere with graft inquiries he is facing. Corruption investigations landed five of his predecessors in jail.

The investigation into Crivella is based in part on plea bargain testimony from someone who admitted to laundering money for a group with ties to the mayor, running a contract kickback scheme, prosecutors said.

Other suspects were also arrested on Tuesday, police said.

Reporting by Rodrigo Viga and Sabrina ValleWriting by Gabriel StargardterEditing by Brad Haynes, Steve Orlofsky and Mark Heinrich