Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has fired the head of the federal police, the government said on Friday, in a political row as the coronavirus outbreak spreads deeper in the country.
The announcement, published in the official gazette, gave no reason for the dismissal of police chief Mauricio Valeixo. However, Bolsonaro has been tussling with Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who had appointed Valeixo.
Valeixo’s removal marks the end of a turbulent 24 hours in the capital Brasilia.
When news of Bolsonaro’s move to push out Valeixo emerged on Thursday, Moro considered quitting in protest, according to a source. But later on Thursday, Moro said he would stay if he got to pick Valeixo’s successor, the source said. It remains to be seen if Moro will get his wish.
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.
It was unclear why Bolsonaro, whose family has faced questions over alleged links to underworld figures, wanted to get rid of Valeixo.
The threat of Moro’s departure and the apparent sidelining of Economy Minister Paulo Guedes rattled financial markets on Thursday.
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 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 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 Valeixo resisted suggestions for the Rio job publicly floated by Bolsonaro, leading the president to propose in August that Valeixo himself could be replaced.