Beware a woman scorned
While scandal has tainted the reputation of former Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral since his alleged connections with a top construction company came to light in 2012, mayor Eduardo Paes has managed to keep his name fairly clean — until this past Friday. Even so, he may well manage to steer clear of accusations.
Friday, Veja and Época magazines came forth with audio and video evidence of kickbacks received by a top official in the Paes administration, national congressman Rodrigo Bethlem. Candidate for reelection in the upcoming October elections, most recently Paes right-hand government coordinator (Secretário de Governo), Bethlem entered politics in his twenties, has citywide experience and made his mark helping the mayor to bring order to the city and forcibly remove young crack users from the streets.
Monday, a new tape appeared in the press, with Bethlem describing what appears to be an illegal relationship with the owner of Rio’s largest bus company.
His reelection motto is “Doing the right thing”, but the evidence his ex-wife handed over to the publications has him making outright claims that he was up naughtiness to the tune of 85,000 reais a month. “You know I went to Switzerland to open an account,” he tells her, unaware she was taping the 2011 conversation, held as they sorted out their divorce settlement. The video shows her allegedly receiving a packet of cash in 2012 from his chauffeur, complaining of resultant income tax issues.
According to a 2010 article in the Extra newspaper, part of the Globo empire, Bethlem’s personal estate had previously quadrupled over four years, to R$1.2 million. O Globo newspaper reports that third-party contracts grew enormously while he was in charge of them, then shrank once he left government to run the mayor’s reelection campaign in 2012.
The genealogy here is a striking example of the web of local politics. Bethlem, son of a well-known telenovela actress and a TV Globo director, was until Friday thought to be a natural successor to Paes, whose second term ends in 2016. Vanessa Felippe, Bethlem’s ex-wife, is the daughter of Jorge Felippe, president of the City Council and a key member of Bethlem and Paes’ PMDB party. Felippe’s political support comes from the Bangu district of Rio’s West Zone, an area rife with politically active “militia” groups.
And Vanessa, herself a former national congresswoman, is the mother of Bethlem’s two children, one of whom is a candidate, at age 22, for a spot in the state legislature this year.
Yesterday, Paes ordered an audit of the third-party contracts that Bethlem was responsible for during his time working for the city. Funds in any Swiss bank account would be recovered, he said.
The main contract in question involves a firm hired to care for crack users and screen for low-income families qualified to receive government cash transfers, run by a retired military police major with a questionable record.
Blaming his wife’s poor psychiatric condition — she reportedly tried committing suicide several times, the last being only a few days ago — Bethlem, who has remarried, denied any wrongdoing. Yesterday, Vanessa released a signed statement, now displayed on Bethlem’s Facebook page, saying she “manipulated the tapes”. Nonetheless, an expert hired by Época magazine said they were legitimate and pristine.