By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Rio de Janeiro police have arrested one of the men they say is criminally involved with the collapse of two buildings in the Muzema community on April 12th in the western part of the city. The failure of the buildings left 24 people dead.
Police had been looking for Rafael Gomes da Costa after an arrest warrant issued for the sale of apartments in the building that collapsed.
Costa is expected to be charged with 24 counts of qualified homicide, in addition to being investigated for money laundering and criminal organization. Officials believe he may be part of a militia group that operates in the area, constructing flawed buildings for lower class housing.
Investigators say that by selling apartments in the buildings that collapsed, he took the risk of killing someone. Costa denies he was selling the flats, but instead purchased units in the building, changed his mind about moving in and was trying to re-sell the units.
“I bought the apartments to live in, I did not buy to re-sell,” said Costa in an interview to TV Globo after being arrested. When asked if he had any connection with the militia operating in the area, he denied it.
In addition to Rafael Gomes Costa, arrest warrants have been issued to José Bezerra de Lima, known as Zé do Rolo, and Renato Siqueira Ribeiro. Both Lima and Ribeiro are still on the run and have been declared fugitives. Police believe that Lima has fled to the northeastern part of the country.
The collapse of the buildings in the poor community brought to the limelight the participation of militias in the construction of irregular and illegal structures in suburban areas of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Last week, Rio’s mayor Marcelo Crivella announced that a total of sixteen buildings would be demolished in the Muzema region. Crivella also announced the creation of a park in an environmental preservation area, in memory of the 24 victims of the collapse.