Brazilian show may be responsible for deaths

The host of a Brazilian TV crime show is suspected of taking part in the ultimate of ratings zeal: He’s accused of ordering at least five killings to boost his show’s popularity.

Wallace Souza, who also is a state representative and former police officer, has been host of the popular “Canal Livre,” which has thrived in showing police raids and arrests. But police in the rainforest city of Manaus say their suspicions come in part from the speed with which the show’s reporters would arrive at a crime scene. In a long piece on the case, TV Globo newsmag “Fantistico” showed footage in which one reporter arrives first at a crime scene and smoke is coming out of a body.

Souza and his legal reps deny involvement.

But police have so far arrested 15 people linked to Souza, including his son Rafael and Moacir Jorge da Costa, a show producer and bodyguard. Da Costa reportedly testified that at least one killing portrayed at the show was commissioned by Souza, in what authorities suspect was a way to also eliminate a rival in organized crime. The list could include four other murders, police said.

Following Da Costa’s testimony, police raided Souza’s home and found 250,000 reals ($136,000), $15,000 in American currency and a number of high-caliber assault rifles. Police charged Souza of drug trafficking, gang formation and weapons possession. But he remains free because of legislative immunity that prevents him from being arrested as long as he is a state representative.

Souza was expelled from the police force in the late 1980s for taking part on a fuel- embezzlement scheme. A few years later, he premiered the TV show, where he championed the cause of cleaning Manaus of criminals, a message that had great popular appeal and paved the way for his political career.

The investigation of Souza, who denies all charges, is being carried out by a special task force, including a judge and the state government secretary of police, who are under 24-hour protection.

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