Bolsonaro links to Franco murder suspects coincidence, say police

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Apparent links between Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro and two suspects arrested over the murder of rights activist Marielle Franco are believed to be a coincidence, police said Tuesday, as the president faced scrutiny over the connections.

One of the two suspects apparently published a photograph of himself alongside Bolsonaro on his Facebook account -- since deleted -- while the other lived in the same Rio de Janeiro residential complex as the president.

Bolsonaro dismissed the photo with suspect Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, which went viral on social media, as one of thousands he's posed for with members of the armed forces.

And police said it was a mere coincidence that the second suspect, retired military police officer Ronnie Lessa, shared a residence with Bolsonaro.

Lessa, 48, was arrested early Tuesday, suspected of having pulled the trigger -- 13 times -- that killed Franco and her chauffeur Anderson Gomes in March last year.

He was detained at his home in the upmarket seaside neighborhood of Barra de Tijuca, where Bolsonaro lives when in Rio, police confirmed.

It was there that the far-right presidential candidate celebrated his election victory in October in front of a massive gathering of supporters.

"The fact that (Lessa) lives in the same residential complex as Bolsonaro has little to do with the Marielle affair," police commissioner Giniton Lages told reporters.

"There is no direct relationship with the Bolsonaro family, we've discovered nothing."

When asked by a journalist about an apparent romantic relationship between Lessa's daughter and one of Bolsonaro's sons, Laged replied: "That's right... but that's not important for us at the moment."

Vieira de Queiroz, 46, who was previously sacked from the military police, is believed to have driven the car that followed Franco's own vehicle before the lethal drive-by shooting.

A photo dating back to 2011 of him seemingly besides Bolsonaro had been reproduced and shared all over the web prior to his Facebook account being deleted.

Only the bottom half of Bolsonaro's face could be seen in the picture and AFP's fact-checking team was unable to prove that the figure in the photo was indeed the president.

When questioned on the matter by journalists, Bolsonaro said: "I've had my picture taken with thousands of soldiers all over Brazil."

"The most important thing is to know who ordered this murder," added Bolsonaro.

Franco was a black gay rights activist who was an outspoken critic of police brutality and defender of the poor.

She was murdered on March 14, 2018 and until Tuesday's arrests, seemingly no progress had been made into the homicide investigation in almost a year.