Ex-Officers Arrested in Killing of Marielle Franco, Brazilian Politician and Activist

Ex-Officers Arrested in Killing of Marielle Franco, Brazilian Politician and Activist

RIO DE JANEIRO — Law enforcement officials on Tuesday morning arrested two former police officers suspected of executing a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman — a breakthrough in a brazen political assassination that has haunted Brazilians for nearly a year.

Shortly before dawn, homicide investigators took into custody the two former military police officers, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz. In a statement, the authorities said Mr. Lessa opened fire on a car in which the councilwoman, Marielle Franco, was riding in downtown Rio on March 14, 2018. Mr. Vieira de Queiroz was driving the vehicle from which Mr. Lessa fired, the authorities said.

The arrests offer the most concrete sign yet that Ms. Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were targeted by members of a criminal underworld run by former and current law enforcement officials. Allies of Ms. Franco have long suspected that such groups, known as militias, may have targeted the councilwoman in retaliation for her activism against police brutality and her defense of human rights.

In a charging document, prosecutors said the assassination had been planned for months and asserted that the killing had been motivated by Ms. Franco’s work as a lawmaker.

“It is undeniable that Marielle Francisco da Silva was summarily executed for her political activities and the causes she defended,” prosecutors wrote in a court document, according to the O Globo newspaper. “The barbarity committed the night of March 14, 2018, was an affront to a democratic state guided by the rule of law.”

Ms. Franco, 38, who was raised in the Maré favela of Rio Janeiro, was elected to the City Council in 2016 and was among the rising stars of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party.

At the time of her killing, she was the sole black woman on the City Council and among the few politicians in the nation who are openly gay. The assassinations set off an outcry at home and abroad and underscored the deepening political polarization in Brazil.

Officials have yet to outline a motive for the killing or identify the person or people who ordered it.

“Of all the questions, who ordered the killing is the most important one,” Mônica Benício, Ms. Franco’s longtime partner, said in an interview on Monday. “It has to be answered because this was an affront to our democracy.”

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