Corresponsal in São Paulo
A few hours before Christmas the bishop Edir Macedo, founder of the monumental Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), the largest neo-Pentecostal group in Brazil and perhaps the world, took a hard political blow with the prison of the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Marcello Crivella, his nephew and the disciple of his flock who further carried his political ambitions. The jailed mayor and Macedo are also first-rate allies of President Jair Bolsonaro, who planned to run for “Republicans”, a party linked to that Church.
Crivella, 63, was arrested on Tuesday, accused of corruption by the Rio de Janeiro Prosecutor’s Office, nine days before the end of his term, at his home in the Barra de Tijuca neighborhood, from where he was taken to prison. On Wednesday, the Brazilian Justice accepted a petition for habeas corpus and allowed house arrest using an electronic anklet.
Since taking office four years ago, Crivella had survived several impeachment processes and dodged serious allegations of corruption ranging from money laundering, abuse of power, influence peddling and diversions. Unpopular, the mayor had sought his re-election, but was defeated by Eduardo Paes, who will replace him as of January 1.
The nephew’s prison comes around the same time as another defeat for the influential Brazilian bishop, contested this month by Rebel parishioners in Angola, who have attacked control of his religious empire in that country, with the support of the local government.
«This prison of Crivella, hits hard to the Universal Church in its political ambitions. It is a huge loss and coincides with an astral hell of Edir Macedo, who has just lost control of his churches in Angola. The Church has been facing internal divisions, the dissatisfaction of bishops and pastors with the leadership of Macedo’s son-in-law, Renato Cardoso, who is not well regarded by the older bishops “, explains to ABC, journalist Gilberto Nascimento, author of “The kingdom. Edir Macedo’s story and a radiography of the Universal Church » (The Kingdom. The story of Edir Macedo and an X-ray of the Universal Church), launched last year by the publisher Companhia das Letras.
From Rousseff to Bolsonaro
In the same operation against Crivella he was also arrested Mauro macedo, Edir’s cousin, accused of receiving unaccounted funds from the Rio Transport Federation. Without a position in the mayor’s office, Mauro was a kind of brown eminence in the mayor’s office, says Nascimento.
Nascimento describes Macedo as an obsessive and pragmatic leader, who even joined the left-wing Workers Party (PT), which he demonized so much, when Lula da Silva became president. Crivella was even Dilma Rousseff’s fisheries minister, but when he saw that Bolsonaro had a chance to win in the 2018 election, Macedo turned around and supported him immediately. They have total affinity. It is the Government with the conservative political discourse, much closer to the aspirations of this evangelical segment. Bolsonaro was even anointed in the Temple of Solomon (the main temple of the IURD in São Paulo) by Edir Macedo, at the end of 2019, already elected ”, explains the journalist.
The Republican party, chaired by Pastor Marcos Pereira, of the IURD, has in its ranks two sons of Bolsonaro, Councilor Carlos and Senator Flavio, investigated in several corruption scandals. Bolsonaro, in turn, remains without a party to try for reelection. “The idea was to deepen ties, to strengthen politically both sides, and the opposite happened. Bolsonaro’s protection ended up damaging Universal’s candidacies, and ended up being bad for Crivella (who lost reelection). And now for Bolsonaro it is also wrong to have supported a mayor who is going to jail, “analyzes Nascimento, who recalls that Macedo opted for Bolsonaro with the expectation of achieving a series of demands, among them, the end of collecting taxes. In Brazil, churches are tax-free, but many, like the IURD, used tricks to declare expenses that they had in other areas, paying employees as if they were religious and evading labor laws, for example. The maneuver caught the attention of the Treasury, which imposed fines and generated millions in debts that these churches refuse to pay.
Macedo has also counted on the slowness of the Brazilian justice system. Last year they prescribed a series of complaints against him and his Church, which included charges of money laundering, evasion of currency, gang formation and fraud. Apparently more than slow, the IURD also has faithful in the judiciary, as well as the Bolsonaro clan that has expanded its influence in the courts, appointing allies to their interests.
In September, a court repressed the judge Marcelo Bretas, one of the leaders of the Lavajato anti-corruption operation, for participating in evangelical cults alongside Bolsonaro and Crivella, jeopardizing their impartiality. A symbolic example of how the IURD dangerously infiltrates all sectors of Brazilian power.
The Kingdom of Edir Macedo
The book «O Reino», an independent biography of the founder of Universal, unravels the complicated story of the powerful pastor, who in addition to churches around the world, has built monumental temples and a powerful communication group in Brazil, Record, in addition to an extensive political network with members in various parties, in which Crivella, son of his sister, Eris Macedo, was the one who had gone the furthest in elections.
According to the researcher, the IURD, founded in 1977, It is present in 95 countries, has 10,000 temples around the world and 1.8 million faithful just in Brazil. It is the largest in the country among the so-called neo-Pentecostal churches, which are identified with the theology of prosperity, which considers material wealth a blessing from God, one of the reasons why it has also become one of the most controversial, for the businesses he runs and the financial pressure on his followers.
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