Activists demand justice in the case of the March 14, 2018, assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and human rights advocate Marielle Franco. EFE/ Joedson Alves

New suspect arrested in assassination of Brazil city councilwoman Marielle Franco

Rio de Janeiro, Jul 24 (EFE).- Brazil’s Federal Police on Monday arrested a former firefighter suspected of involvement in the March 2018 murder of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and human rights advocate Marielle Franco and her driver, officials said.

Maxwell Simoes Correia, who had already been convicted of obstruction of justice in that same case and sentenced in 2021 to four years of probation, was arrested in Rio as an alleged accomplice to the double homicide, sources in the Attorney General’s Office say.

Investigators say Correia owned the vehicle used to hide weapons belonging to ex-police officer Ronnie Lessa, one of the suspected perpetrators of the assassination.

The arrest occurred as part of a Federal Police operation launched Monday and included searches of seven residences in the city of Rio de Janeiro and its outskirts.

The investigation was given new impetus with the return to power on Jan. 1 of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has pledged to push for a resolution of the case that Amnesty International describes as a symbol of impunity in Brazil.

After winning election to a third term, Lula appointed Marielle’s sister, Anielle Franco, as minister of racial equality, while his justice minister, Flavio Dino, ordered the formation of a Federal Police task force to support the Rio de Janeiro state police in the probe.

By contrast, Franco’s widow, city councilwoman Monica Benicio, has said that Lula’s predecessor – rightist former President Jair Bolsonaro, who was in office from 2019 to 2022 – never showed respect for Marielle’s memory or a commitment to solving the case.

Franco, who was assassinated inside her car on the night of March 14, 2018, after attending an event in downtown Rio de Janeiro to promote the empowerment of black women, was an Afro-Brazilian lesbian from one of the city’s toughest favelas (shantytowns) and a rising political star.

As a councilwoman, Franco had stood up for minorities and confronted the militias – mainly comprising active and retired police – that extort protection payments from residents and businesses in dozens of Rio’s favelas.

The driver of the vehicle in which she was traveling, Anderson Gomes, was also killed, while an aide to the councilwoman, Fernanda Chaves, survived.

The investigation into the double homicide remains open more than five years later.

The two alleged perpetrators, former police officers Elcio de Queiroz and Lessa, were arrested in 2019 and charged with firing the shots that killed Franco and Gomes.

But although prosecutors believe the double homicide was a contract killing, they have not yet determined who hired the shooters.

Anielle Franco said recently on social media that she had spoken with Dino and Federal Police chief Andrei Rodrigues about this new operation and reaffirmed her confidence in the probe.

“And I reiterate the question I’ve been asking myself for five years: who gave the order to kill Marielle and why?” she wrote. EFE