Brazil’s minister of Agriculture, Wagner Rossi, sent a letter of resignation to president Dilma Rousseff and his request was promptly accepted. Rossi wrote that the decision to leave was due to pressure from his family.
“Over the last 30 days I have faced an onslaught of false and unproven accusations. The truth is that absolutely nothing I have done in the public service could ever be considered illegal or improper,” said Rossi, adding that he intended to answer each and every accusation with documentary evidence that he claimed the media ignored as it leveled charges of corruption and influence traffic against him.
According to the weekly newsmagazine, Veja, a ministry subsidiary, the National Supply Corporation (Conab), had become a center of irregular activities with public monies.
Then the daily newspaper Correio Braziliense reported that Rossi traveled on a jet belonging to a farm sector company with ministry of Agriculture contracts (the firm sells products (insecticides, for example) that require authorization by the ministry).
Rossi is the fourth minister to resign in the last two months (the first was Antonio Palocci at the beginning of June). And he is the third minister, along with Palocci, formerly Chief of Staff, and Alfredo Nascimento, formerly of Transportation, to resign under a cloud of corruption accusations.
The fourth resigning minister was Nelson Jobim of Defense. However, Rossi, unlike Palocci and Nascimento (and Jobim, for that matter), was an important man in an important political party (the PMDB) that provides political backing in the Congress for the government.
In his resignation letter Rossi condemned the media claiming he was the target of a “cascade of false accusations”.
“During the last thirty days I have been attacked daily and faced a cascade of false accusations, with no evidence, none of them indicating a single action from my part that could have been described as illegal or improper in dealings with government affairs”.
According to an advisor to Brazilian Vice-President Michel Temer, who is also the political support of Rossi, the two political leaders exchanged views on the letter and then headed for President Rousseff’s office to formalize the resignation.
Earlier in the week the Brazilian Federal Police opened an investigation following claims of alleged corruption at the Agriculture ministry, including ‘favoring’ tenders and collecting ‘tips’ for such favors.
The problems at the ministry begun when a former head of the Conab, Oscar Jucá Neto and brother of Senator Romero Jucá claimed that the company was “a cave of bandits” strongly suggesting that Minister Wagner Rossi was well aware of the corruption schemes.
Brazil’s leading magazine Veja further revealed that a private lobbyist had his own office in the ministry and worked in combination with Milton Ortolan, deputy Minister, forcing his resignation.
The Correio Braziliense revelation indicated that Minister Rossi and one of his sons, Baleia Rossi, state representative in São Paulo, traveled on several occasions on a (7 million dollars) private jet belonging to Ourofino, an important company linked to agro-business.
Rossi, 68, was head of the Agriculture ministry since April 2010, under former president Lula and was confirmed by Dilma Rousseff. Before that he was president of the controversial Conab, also linked to Agriculture.
A successful businessman and corporation manager, (graduated in Economics and Education) Rossi was first elected to the São Paulo state assembly in 1983 and belongs to the PMDB, key ally of Lula’s Workers Party. PMDB has control of the Senate and a blocking capacity in the Lower House. Vice-President Michel Temer is head of PMDB.
Following two periods as São Paulo state lawmaker Rossi was elected federal Deputy and re-elected twice, completing three periods.
Before becoming a federal minister, Rossi had important posts at São Paulo state: Transport and Infrastructure Secretary; Education, Sports and Tourism Secretary and president of the São Paulo infrastructure projects company.
President Rousseff has so far lost her cabinet chief, Antonio Palocci; Transport Minister Alfredo Nascimento; Defense minister Nelson Jobim and now Rossi. The list is expected to include the Minister of Tourism, Pedro Novaes, since his second in command (who has resigned) Frederico Costa and 38 other staff members were arrested by the Federal Police on corruption and embezzlement charges.