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Brazil police arrest 'masterminds' of Rio councilmember's 2018 murder

Marielle Franco was an outspoken black- and LGBTQ-rights campaigner who grew up in a slum and went on to become a charismatic defender of the poor and a vocal critic of police brutality (Miguel SCHINCARIOL)
Marielle Franco was an outspoken black- and LGBTQ-rights campaigner who grew up in a slum and went on to become a charismatic defender of the poor and a vocal critic of police brutality (Miguel SCHINCARIOL)

Brazilian police on Sunday arrested three current and former officials who allegedly masterminded the 2018 assassination of Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco.

Franco was an outspoken black- and LGBTQ-rights campaigner who grew up in a slum and went on to become a charismatic defender of the poor and a vocal critic of police brutality. Her killing sparked outcry in Brazil and abroad.

She was slain in a drive-by shooting along with her driver, Anderson Gomes, in central Rio de Janeiro on the evening of March 14, 2018. She was 38.

Police have said they believe Franco was killed for her political actions, but it was never clear who ordered the assassination.

On Sunday, the Supreme Federal Court said Joao Chiquinho Brazao, a businessman and current member of Brazil's lower house, his brother, Rio court of auditors advisor Domingos Brazao, and the former head of the Rio civil police Rivaldo Barbosa, had been taken into custody.

"The crime was devised by the two brothers and meticulously planned by Rivaldo," Alexandre de Moraes, the Supreme Federal Court judge who ordered their preventive detentions, wrote in court documents.

Brazilian Justice Minister Ricardo Lewandowski said at a press conference in Brasilia that the crime was "clearly political in nature," and that investigative work on the case had concluded with the arrests.

- 'Long way to go' -

"There are sufficient elements" in the police report for federal prosecutors to file charges against the detainees, Lewandowski said.

"Today is a big step forward in finding the answers to the many questions we have been asking ourselves in recent years: who ordered Mari's murder and why?" Franco's sister Anielle Franco, who is now Brazil's minister of racial equality, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

But there is still "a long way to go," she said.

Two former police officers -- Ronnie Lessa and Elcio De Queiroz -- were arrested a year after the crime. Lessa was allegedly the gunman and De Queiroz the driver of the car that pursued Franco.

Last year authorities said De Queiroz had "confirmed his participation and that of Ronnie Lessa" in the attack.

The confession led to the arrest of another suspect, former firefighter Maxwell Simoes Correa.

Last week, the government announced that Lessa had also confessed.

Authorities have suggested organized crime and paramilitary groups were involved in the assassination. Franco had frequently denounced the abuses of militias among the impoverished communities of Rio's favelas.

The Franco sisters inspired other black women to enter politics.

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