Reports: Brazil's sports minister leaving

October 26, 2011 - 3:10 PM

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazilian media reported Wednesday that the nation's sports minister will be replaced soon because of corruption allegations.

Minister Orlando Silva has been under fire for more than a week as several people have come forward to accuse him of involvement in kickback schemes linked to projects for social sports programs. Silva has denied the allegations.

On Tuesday, Brazil's Supreme Court said it opened an investigation into the allegations. Silva has already denied the accusations before a congressional panel.

"After that Supreme Court decision, Orlando was a minister who was already on his way out," a spokesman with the president's office told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper in a story posted on its website Wednesday.

The Globo newspaper and the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper have similar reports.

A spokesman with the office of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and with Silva's Communist Party would not comment on the matter when contacted by The Associated Press.

Silva is tasked with overseeing Brazil's preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, though his departure is unlikely to affect preparations for those events because responsibilities are spread across many federal ministries, as well as state and city governments.

It was not clear if Silva would resign or be fired. The Brazilian Communist Party is a loyal supporter of the ruling Workers Party, and presumably would like another one of its members to take Silva's spot if he leaves.

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.

If Silva leaves his post, he would be 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 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 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.

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Associated Press writers Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo and Tales Azzoni in Guadalajara, Mexico, contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that police officer making accusations did not say he personally delivered money)