Brazil sports minister resigns in scandal
SAO PAULO -- Brazil's sports minister resigned Wednesday after fighting corruption allegations for more than a week, the sixth minister forced to leave office since June.
Sports Minister Orlando Silva maintained his innocence against allegations he took part in a kickback scheme but said he was resigning to avoid a continuation of a political crisis for the government.
"I submitted my resignation. I decided to leave the government so that I can defend my honor," Silva said after an hourlong meeting with President Dilma Rousseff.
Several people have come forward in the past 12 days to accuse Silva of involvement in kickback schemes linked to projects for social sports programs. On Tuesday, Brazil's Supreme Court said it opened an investigation into the allegations. Silva has already denied the accusations before a congressional panel.
A spokesman with Rousseff's office said no replacement for Silva had been named.
Silva was tasked with overseeing Brazil's preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, though his departure is unlikely to effect preparations for those events because responsibilities are spread across many federal ministries, as well as state and city governments.
Silva returned from the Pan American Games in Mexico last week to defend himself against the accusations, which first surfaced in the newsmagazine Veja, whose reports on corruption have helped lead to the removal of four other ministers since June.
Veja quoted police officer Joao Dias Ferreira, who runs a nonprofit sports youth organization, as saying kickbacks were personally delivered to Silva so that the nonprofit could receive government funds.
Silva denies receiving any money from Dias' group and said he believes the allegation was made in retaliation for an investigation he launched into how Dias' group was using government money.
A spokeswoman for Brazil's organizing committee for the World Cup said the organization had no comment. A spokesman for the Olympic organizing committee did not return calls, though the group's president, Carlos Nuzman, told the AP last week that the Silva scandal will not affect Rio de Janeiro's preparations for the Olympics.
Silva is the sixth minister forced from Rousseff's government. Four of the five who have already left faced corruption allegations.
"Brazil must hold the world record now for the number of ministers forced out because of corruption," said Gil Castello Branco, founder of the nonprofit watchdog group Contas Abertas, which campaigns for transparency in government.
He said that Silva's exit was inevitable, "but I don't think it will have any affect on the preparations for our two megaevents, the World Cup and the Olympics. Silva is more of a figurehead, the preparations will go ahead without him," Branco said.
"This is likely to have more repercussions on Brazil's international reputation than any actual work here," he said.
But Ricardo Caldas, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, said any effects would likely be positive "because the Brazilian government looks like it's fighting corruption."
Rousseff's approval rating has risen above 70 percent in recent months, and analysts say that is largely due to the perception that she's tackling entrenched corruption.
The exit of Rousseff's ministers began in June, when her chief of staff, Antonio Palocci, was forced from his post amid reports about the rapid growth of his personal wealth during his tenure as a legislator, from 2006-2010.
The ministers of agriculture, transportation, and tourism have also resigned following allegations of irregularities. The defense minister was forced out after publicly criticizing other ministers in Rousseff's government.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press