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High court in Brazil suspends pro-Lula governor mid-campaign

The Superior Court of Justice, Brazil’s second-highest judicial body, on Tuesday suspended Governor Paulo Dantas of Alagoas from office as it authorized a Federal Police operation to investigate him for embezzlement.

According to the Federal Police, the investigation scrutinizes “the systematic practice of embezzlement” since 2019, when Mr. Dantas was still a lawmaker in the Alagoas State Congress.

Mr. Dantas won an indirect election for caretaker governor in Alagoas in May this year, after both the then-governor and lieutenant governor resigned. Brazilian electoral legislation forces government officials at all levels to leave their positions six months prior to Election Day in order to become eligible for office (except if running for re-election).

Mr. Dantas then ran on October 2 for a full four-year term, finishing first with 46 percent of the vote and qualifying for a runoff on October 30.

The indirect election earlier this year took on nationalized undertones, pitting Senator Renan Calheiros and House Speaker Arthur Lira — local political juggernauts who are also important allies of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and President Jair Bolsonaro, respectively. Mr. Dantas’s bid was supported by Mr. Calheiros, while Mr. Lira sided with rival state lawmaker.

On Twitter, Mr. Calheiros claimed the operation is the result of the “political use of the Federal Police and abuse of authority.” He also accused Mr. Lira of “scheming” for the investigation to reach the higher courts.

The Superior Court of Justice is the venue responsible for cases against state governors. However, the investigation against Mr. Dantas dates back to when he was a local lawmaker — only reaching the country’s top appellate court after he took office as caretaker governor.

House Speaker Lira fired back, also on Twitter, claiming Mr. Calheiros acted to “muffle” the investigation.

Mr. Dantas, although suspended from office for six months, will be allowed to campaign for reelection normally. Should he win the runoff, his running mate will take office on January 1 — and he would only be allowed to take over in April.

The state government of Alagoas told The Brazilian Report that it does not yet have “an official position” on the operation.

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