By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As allegations continue to swirl around national Congressman Rodrigo Bethlem, a former member of the administration of Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes and fellow member of the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) or PMDB, the mounting corruption scandal threatens to spread and negatively impact the party during the upcoming October 2014 elections in Brazil.
Allegations against Bethlem were first brought to light by his ex-wife Vanessa Felippe Bethlem. On Friday, July 25, two Brazilian magazines Época and Veja, reported audio and video recordings made by Vanessa Felippe Bethlem.
The main audio recording was made by Mrs. Bethlem in 2011 during the couple’s negotiations, after their divorce, over pension payments for her and the couple’s two children.
The conversations allegedly implicated Mr. Bethlem in kickback and bribery schemes and revealed a bank account in Switzerland where government funds were reportedly funneled.
In 2012, Rodrigo Bethlem reportedly began paying her the pension by delivered packages of cash, delivered to her home, of R$20,000. Mrs. Bethlem allegedly claimed the amount was insufficient to cover the family expenses and videotaped the last three package deliveries.
Vanessa Bethlem is the daughter of Alderman Jorge Felippe, also a member of the PMDB party. Additionally, she worked in government herself, including the position of vice president of the State Lottery of Rio de Janeiro (Loterj), from 2007 to 2012. She also managed the magazine B4, which reportedly featured ads bankrolled by the city of Rio de Janeiro.
On Saturday, August 2nd, Mayor Paes, addressed the allegations of corruption surrounding Rodrigo Bethlem and his time in the Paes administration, stating that the city had initiated an audit of contracts made by Bethlem, who served as Desenvolvimento Social da prefeitura do Rio (Secretary of Social Development of the city of Rio), between 2011 and 2012.
It was during that time, that Bethlem allegedly received an allowance from the NGO Casa Espírito Tesloo. The NGO reportedly was awarded R$80 million in no-bid contracts from the city beginning in 2005, during former Mayor Cesar Maia’s administration, and running through parts of Mayor Paes’ first term until 2010.
Bethlem held two other positions in the Paes administration.He served as the Secretário da Ordem Pública (Secretary of Public Order) in 2009. There his duties included implementing the Operação Choque de Ordem (Operation Shock of Order) to the city, earning him the nickname of “Sheriff of Rio.”
Bethlem most recently served as the Secretaria de Governo (Secretary of Government), taking that position after Paes was re-elected in 2012. Bethlem left in April to bid for re-election and despite the ongoing scandal, Bethlem currently remains a candidate in the October elections.
Former Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral, also of the PMDB party, saw numerous scandals during his terms in office and plummeting approval ratings in 2013. He eventually resigned to pursue a senate seat, replaced by Luiz Fernando Pezão of the PMDB. In a recent Datafolha poll, Pezão, who is running for Governor of Rio Janeiro state in October, was trailing in polls to the Party of the Republic (PR) and Brazilian Republican Party (PRB) candidates for the office.
The current Vice President of Brazil Michel Temer is also a member of the PMDB party, which illustrates the close ties between PMDB and President Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT). Temer will bid for re-election alongside Rousseff in October and despite the World Cup loss, the latest polls by Datafolha, Ibope and Vox Populi, show Rousseff and Temer in the lead by approximately forty percent.