Brazil police steps up efforts to find mining royalty corruption ring members

Brazil’s federal police is set to question Friday a prominent local evangelical pastor said to be involved in a major corruption scheme related to the payment of 1.6 billion reais ($475 million) in mining royalties to numerous municipalities.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Timóteo," has so far involved 16 searches and raids across 11 states, including 29 interrogations, four detention warrants, 12 arrests and the seizure of over 70 million reais (almost $21 million) in assets, Agencia Brasil reports.

Scheme aimed to increase royalties mining companies owed to municipal governments.

According to Estado de S. Paulo (in Portuguese), the scheme aimed to increase royalties mining companies owed to municipal governments and counted with the participation of several public servants, including an unnamed senior Mining and Energy Ministry official.

Silas Malafaia, one of Brazil's most influential evangelical preachers, is also accused of being part of the scheme, laundering mining royalties related funds through church accounts.

The pastor, currently in Sao Paulo, said through his Twitter account he was awakened this morning by a phone call from federal police officers informing him that his Rio de Janeiro-based home had been raided.

Brazil police steps up efforts to find mining royalty corruption ring members

Malafaia claims that, as most pastors in the world, he usually receives contributions. He added that if a criminal donates money to his church, without him knowing the origins of such funds, that doesn’t make him part of the crime.

Currently, municipalities receive close to 65% of mining royalties raised through the so-called CFEM tax every year.