It was the television show with the highest ratings in Manaus, the lawless Amazon city, and somehow its breathless reporters always seemed to get to the scene of a shocking crime first.
The show’s host, Wallace Souza, was a former police officer whose fame as a TV host helped to get him elected three times to the State Assembly with a record number of votes.
But now police think they know how Mr Souza’s show got its scoops: they claim that he organised at least five murders to boost the ratings and further his political ambitions in the process.
Mr Souza’s son, Rafael, has been in prison since May on charges of homicide, drug trafficking and illegal possession of arms, and Brazil is now gripped by the case of the TV presenter who may have gone too far.
Thomaz Vasconcelos Dias, the state’s police intelligence chief, claims that Mr Souza’s plan was to use the murders to increase his popularity via the show, remove his rivals and fuel the public’s fear of crime — all to become the Amazon’s Secretary for Security. Mr Souza firmly denies all the allegations. “He dealt with all his needs at once,” says Mr Vasconcelos. “He got to eliminate various enemies, destabilise public security and increase his audience figures, all at the same time.”
In one of Mr Souza’s shows on his Canal Livre programme, a reporter approached a still-smouldering body in a forest. “It smells like a barbecue,” he says. “It is a man. It has the smell of burning meat. The impression is that it was in the early hours . . . it was an execution.”
This is now one of the murders under investigation. Mr Vasconcelos believes it is odd that the reporter knew, for instance, that the victim had been murdered in the early hours. “How did he know all these details? It’s very strange. This sparked our attention.”
The official statement from the police reads: “Deputy Wallace Souza’s programme arrived first [at crime scenes] and this was because Wallace had prior knowledge of the events, many of which were carried out because he ordered them.”
As well as his links to the killings, Brazilian courts have also authorised further investigations of Mr Souza for alleged illegal possession of firearms, association with drug trafficking and gang membership. His forcible retirement as state legislator is also being sought.
The group Mr Souza allegedly ran is accused of involvement in five murders: three drug dealers and two car thieves, from 2007 up to February this year. All the victims were shot and the crimes were covered on his show.
Prosecutors involved in the case told Fantastico, a Brazilian television show, that they had received death threats and now armed themselves when travelling.
Brazilian television said that Mr Souza threatened police as they searched his house and found 250,000 Brazilian reals (£82,450), $15,000 and specialist ammunition normally available only to the police. “I’m going to be Security Secretary,” he is alleged to have said — a claim he also denies.
Moacir Jorge da Costa, Mr Souza’s former security guard, is also in jail accused of involvement in nine murders. Mr da Costa alleges that Mr Souza and his son were involved in a plot to murder Jaiza Maria Fraxe, a federal judge, who also appeared on Fantastico saying that her life had been threatened.
She alleged that the gunman hired to kill her changed his mind about the hit when he found out he was meant to murder a judge — and was himself then murdered. His killing, captured on CCTV, was shown on Fantastico. In it, a scooter drives up to a crowded bar, the passenger dismounts and then discharges two shots.
Because he has political immunity as a State Deputy, Mr Souza is at liberty. His press assistant, Isabella Siqueira, told The Times that he denied all the charges. “He is innocent. This investigation is politically motivated because of his popularity,” she said.
“He is continuing to work normally. He has always worked against crime and drug trafficking.” She said that Canal Livre was always popular and did not need to boost its ratings.
Tags: Brazil, crime, show, host, used, murder, to, boost, ratings, lawless, TV, presenter, Canal, Livre, programme, execution, Wallace, Souza, Amazon, city,
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