Brazil police arrest 3 alleged masterminds behind Councilwoman Marielle Franco’s 2018 assassination

By March 25, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – Six years and 10 days after City Councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes were brutally assassinated while traveling on a street in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s Federal Police have arrested three people they claim to be the masterminds behind the murders.

According to court documents released on Sunday, the crime was organized at the behest of politician brothers Domingos and Chiquinho Brazão and carefully planned by Rivaldo Barbosa, who took over as chief of Rio de Janeiro Police a day before the killings in March 2018.

The Brazãos have a long history in Rio de Janeiro politics, and are particularly influential in the city’s western zone, a stronghold for Rio’s paramilitary militias. Chiquinho is currently a federal deputy in Brazil’s lower house of Congress, and Domingos serves as a counsellor in the state’s Court of Auditors. The police recommended homicide charges for Chiquinho but cannot yet bring formal charges against Domingos due to his current role in the court system.

Chiquinho Brazão, Domingos Brazão and Rivaldo Barbosa

Police also allege that Barbosa, the then-police chief, helped to mastermind the killings and later used his power to obstruct and delay investigations into the murders. Police recommended homicide charges against the former police official.

Marielle Franco and land disputes with Rio’s militias

Marielle Franco was a prominent politician, feminist, and human rights activist who championed minority rights in Brazil, including the Black and LGBTQ communities. She often spoke out against police brutality, corruption, and land rights for poor residents in favelas in the western part of the city.

Franco was serving as a city councillor for Rio de Janeiro when she was gunned down on March 14, 2018 along with her driver.

At the time of her death, it was suspected that the motive for her killing was related to her work on land rights in the favelas.

On Sunday, investigators said the Brazão brothers ordered Franco’s murder because of her interference in land-grabbings committed by armed militias in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s militias are mostly composed of retired military policemen who took up arms to combat illegal drug gangs, but now operate brutally outside of the law.

Marielle Franco at the Rio de Janeiro City Council, in 2017 (courtesy Renan Olaz/CMRJ)

In 2016, Chiquinho Brazão served with Franco on Rio de Janeiro’s city council. That year, he proposed a law which would normalize land ownership in the city’s western zone, and pave the way for real estate development.

According to police, Chiquinho was seeking to negotiate with the militias to develop the land while Franco opposed the project, arguing that the land should be used to address the city’s housing deficit for poorer residents.

Franco’s opposition wasn’t enough to halt the law’s approval, but it was sufficient to anger the Brazãos. Franco was murdered on the same day the law was approved in the city council.

Ronnie Lessa and the investigation that led to Barbosa and the Brazãos

According to Federal Police, the revelations about the intellectual authors of the crime came thanks to the testimony of former military police officer Ronnie Lessa, the alleged triggerman who is currently incarcerated for Franco’s murder.

Lessa reportedly received information about Franco’s movements in the days leading up to the assasination by Simões Corrêa, a former firefighter who was arrested for his involvement in the case last July.

Read more: Brazil police arrest suspect in Marielle Franco murder, say they’re closer to finding the mastermind

Two other men have also been arrested related to the killings. Former police officer Élcio Queiroz allegedly drove the getaway car from which Lessa shot Franco and Gomes. And businessman Edilson dos Santos allegedly destroyed the getaway car in his scrapyard after the murders.