By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s Minister for National Integration Fernando Bezerra Coelho has become the latest in a string of President Dilma Rousseff’s ministers to have come under fire following allegations of corruption. The minister is facing accusations of favoritism towards his home state, the northeast state of Pernambuco, and of nepotism in allocating federal funds to projects pertaining to his son – a federal deputy.
Bezerra tried to set the record straight at a press conference and later at a meeting with the president at the Palácio do Planalto (Presidential Palace), during which he was meant to update her on the progress of operations aimed at combating the floods currently wreaking havoc in a number of states throughout Brazil.
He is expected to face further questioning this week, but has said the accusations against him and his family associates have been stirred up repeatedly by opposition in his home town of Recife – capital of Pernambuco state, which he has represented as both federal and state deputy.
Some media sources said he had been channeling some 90 percent of his ministry’s emergency aid budget to his home state – which has not suffered from flooding to the extent that some other states have, such as Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro states, which are said to have been lacking supplies.
But most scrutiny and accusations are centered around allegations of nepotism regarding the allocation of funds for parliamentary amendments, and the fact that those brought by his son, federal deputy Fernando Coelho, were said to have been favored after all of the younger Coelho’s projects were approved for funding, totaling some R$9.1 million, according to Folha de São Paulo newspaper.
The newspaper alleges Coelho’s son was alone in having the full funding requested allocated to his projects, and the fact that one of the projects is alleged to have links to a company led by the minister’s brother only went to add more fuel to the fire.
A third allegation accused the minister of illegally purchasing land in Petrolina, where he has previously served as mayor, for landfill – land which had already been acquired twice by the city. Fernando Bezerra Coelho says he was misled and that a special commission would be set up to investigate.
Whether he resigns or not, some are saying that the minister was already planning on leaving his post in the upcoming reshuffle of President Rousseff’s cabinet in order to run for mayor of Recife.
The case is under intense scrutiny after a string of scandals leading to seven ministers leaving their posts during President Rousseff’s first year in office in 2011.
The seventh and one of the most high profile cabinet members to leave their post was Labor Minister Carlos Lupi, who resigned in December, attributing his departure to “political and personal persecution.”
Despite the scandals, President Rousseff remains popular, buoyed by her no-nonsense approach to corruption, record low levels of unemployment and improvements to the standard of living for many Brazilians, boosted by a booming economy.
Correction: January 17, 2012
The article was first published indicating Fernando Bezerra Coelho had previously served as mayor of Recife, and not Petrolina.