October 31, 2018 / 7:21 PM / 18 days ago

Brazil's Bolsonaro taps astronaut, courts judge for cabinet

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro set about staffing his new administration on Wednesday, naming an astronaut as science minister while a top anti-corruption judge mulled a job offer.

Brazil's new president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, waves to supporters as he watches airplanes performing near his condominium at Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Landau

Bolsonaro won the presidential race on Sunday, easily overcoming his leftist opponent with a vow to kneecap violent drug gangs and end years of political graft. He has also said he wants to roughly halve the size of the presidential cabinet.

Bolsonaro, who nearly died from a stab wound while campaigning last month, donned a bulletproof vest on Wednesday and headed to the beach in Rio de Janeiro to attend an acrobatic air show in his honor.

The former army captain said on Twitter that Marcos Pontes, a Brazilian astronaut who was the country’s first person in space, would be his science and technology minister.

A full cabinet will be announced next month, Bolsonaro’s future chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said in a private meeting, according to two people who heard the remarks.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro is due to meet with crusading anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, who led the “Car Wash” probe snaring big names in Brazil’s political class and opening the door for Bolsonaro’s tough-on-corruption campaign.

Bolsonaro has previously said he wants Moro to serve as his justice minister and eventually join the Supreme Court. The court’s next vacancy is expected in 2020.

A columnist for Estado de S. Paulo reported on Wednesday that Moro would accept an offer from Bolsonaro to run the Justice Ministry with expanded powers over corruption and public safety, without citing a source.

However, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Moro had not yet made up his mind.

Still, the Bolsonaro camp expected on Wednesday that Moro would join the future cabinet.

“I believe Moro already accepted Bolsonaro’s offer and all that’s missing is for them to meet,” said a source close to Bolsonaro who asked not to be identified.

A third person said Moro’s conditions included the passage of new anti-corruption legislation and expansion of the Justice Ministry’s responsibilities to include the federal police and the auditing office that roots out graft in the federal budget.

Moro, who oversaw graft investigations culminating with a 12-year bribery and money laundering sentence for leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has been cautious in public statements.

“In the event I’m indeed offered a post, it will be subject to a balanced discussion and reflection,” Moro said in a statement on Tuesday.

As part of his drive to slim down government, Bolsonaro has proposed combining three existing ministries into the portfolio of his chief economic adviser and folding together the ministries of agriculture and environment.

The first idea has faced resistance from industrial leaders and the latter has been criticized by the outgoing heads of the ministries.

“How will a minister of agriculture comment on an oil field or mineral exploration?” current Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said in a statement.

Current Environment Minister Edson Duarte in a statement warned that the move could “overload the ministry with so many and such varied agendas it would threaten Brazil’s role in global decision-making forums.”

Slideshow (4 Images)

But on Wednesday night, a Bolsonaro ally said the president-elect had not yet made up his mind regarding the merger.

“It’s possible they will be kept separate and it’s possible that they will be merged,” said Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, who leads the UDR party. “Nothing has been decided yet, at least that’s what the president (elect) told me.”

Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro, Ricardo Brito and Jake Spring in Brasilia and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Writing and additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Marcelo Rochabrun; editing by Brad Haynes, Rosalba O'Brien and Leslie Adler

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