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Two evangelical pastors in Brazil allegedly used their influence with the Education Ministry to steer funds to their allies, a burgeoning scandal hitting the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, who faces reelection this year, the Associated Press reported.
Major Brazilian publications released stories and leaked audio recordings this week alleging that the two pastors served as the ministry’s unofficial advisers and favored municipalities run by their supporters.
In one story, the mayor of the city of Luis Domingues said Reverend Arilton Moura asked for 2.2 pounds of gold and around $3,000 in exchange for funding schools and nurseries. Meanwhile, a recording showed Education Minister Milton Ribeiro telling mayors that the government prioritized municipalities whose requests are backed by Moura and the Reverend Gilmar Santos.
During the meeting, Ribeiro also implicated Bolsonaro, saying at this was “a special request of the president of the Republic.”
Following the reports’ release, the minister said he met with the mayors and pastors on different occasions but denied any wrongdoing. He added that last year he asked Brazil’s anti-corruption agency to investigate the ministry.
The two pastors are members of one of the smaller Assemblies of God movements in Brazil. Even so, the largest of those movements, the General Convention of the Assemblies of God in Brazil, said the two individuals “do not represent and are not authorized to speak on behalf of the General Convention.”
Meanwhile, Chief Prosecutor Augusto Aras asked the Supreme Court to launch an investigation into whether people unaffiliated with the ministry acted to release public funds.
Bolsonaro’s office did not comment on the reports but the far-right president has sought the support of evangelicals for his reelection in October. Polls have consistently shown him trailing leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.