New witness testimony suggests the high-profile assassination of a city councilwoman and her driver in Brazil was a coordinated plot among military police, militia members and a city councilman, underscoring the violence used by the country’s militias for political ends.
One current and one former military police officer, as well as two individuals linked to former police officer and imprisoned militia member Orlando Oliveira de Araújo, also known as "Orlando de Curicica," were allegedly in the car used to commit the March murder of Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes, according to testimony obtained by O Globo.
The witness also alleged that Rio city councilman Marcello Siciliano, a colleague of Franco who has been accused of having links to militia groups, held several meetings in 2017 with Oliveira de Araújo to plot the murder, according to Reuters.
Siciliano has denied these allegations and claimed that his "relationship with Marielle was very good." In a letter obtained by O Dia, Oliveira de Araújo also denied involvement in Franco's murder and said that he did not know her or Siciliano.*
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The recent revelations add to previous evidence indicating Franco's murder was carried out with the participation of a militia, a term used in Brazil to describe vigilante-type groups usually comprised of current and former security force members with varying degrees of political connections.
A May 6 report from Record TV revealed that ballistic tests show that the murder weapon used to carry out the assassination was a Heckler & Koch MP5 -- a German-made submachine gun supposed to be used exclusively by security forces in Brazil -- and not a handgun as was originally thought. Both the MP5 and the pistol previously thought to be the murder weapon use 9mm ammunition.
It was also discovered that five security cameras positioned on the route that Franco and her driver were taking on the night of their murder were turned off between 24 and 48 hours before the assassination took place, O Globo reported separately. One of these cameras was reportedly located precisely where the murder took place.
The murder of Franco -- an outspoken critic of militias, police violence, corruption and other social problems -- drew international attention, and has put pressure on authorities to find the killers. But nearly two months after the slaying, police have yet to make any arrests in the case.
InSight Crime Analysis
The murder of councilwoman Franco and her driver illustrates how militia groups in Brazil, at times in collusion with politicians, use violence to achieve political ends.
Militias have long used their control over certain areas of Rio as a bargaining chip in dealings with politicians. In exchange for political cover for their criminal activities, militias carry out electoral dirty work, like intimidating voters and preventing other candidates from campaigning. More recently, militias have been accused of bankrolling their own candidates for office and targeting political opponents for assassination.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Brazil Militias
Previous assassinations linked to militias in Rio have not targeted figures with the type of name recognition as Franco, suggesting that widespread impunity may be encouraging these groups to become bolder in their use of political violence.
* Update, May 11, 2018: This article was updated to include Oliveira de Araújo's denial.