In a case that gives a dark new twist to reality television: a popular Brazilian crime show host has allegedly been commissioning murders to boost his ratings.
Celebrity host-turned-politician Wallace Souza faces possible jail time after a police investigation which also dug into his alleged past as a drug kingpin.
Brazilian police say some of the murders were aimed at eliminating rival drug traffickers.
Souza’s reality crime series, Canal Livre, built up a huge audience in the jungle city of Manaus. The show featured dramatic footage of police raids and arrests.
Souza was often the first on the scene, approaching freshly-burnt corpses and railing against rampant crime.
Now Brazilian investigators say the popular presenter’s knack for being first at a murder scene is more than just a coincidence.
State police intelligence chief Thomaz Vasconcelos says it is believed the popular TV host ordered the crimes be committed.
“In truth, he went as a far as creating facts and ordering that crimes be committed to generate news for the program,” he said.
Souza is a former cop who was expelled from Brazil’s civil police force before turning to reality television and then politics, where he was the most voted-for candidate in the last elections held in the state of Amazonas.
But it all began to unravel last October when the television host’s former security guard was arrested and accused of at least five murders.
The security guard reportedly confessed, but said he had been ordered to kill by his employer and his employer’s son, Rafael Souza.
And in a dramatic twist worthy of its own television storyline, the allegations do not end there.
Amazonas state prosecutor Fabio Monteiro says Souza is also accused of running a drug trafficking network of former police officers.
He believes the murders served not only to boost his TV ratings, but also to eliminate rival drug lords.
“I have pressed charges against him in court for carrying weapons illegally and forming a gang,” Mr Monteiro said.
Souza’s lawyer Francisco Balieiro says his client vehemently denies the accusations and believes he and his son have been set up.
“Up to now, no-one has presented any technical evidence - none,” he said.
Mr Balieiro says his client has accused political opponents of trying to discredit him.
“All the investigations made by the public ministry and the police have so far not been able to present any proof of any kind,” he said.
Souza’s show is no longer on air and his son is in jail. But despite being under investigation, he remains free due to a quirk in the system which gives him immunity because he is a politician.
TV host ‘ordered killings to boost ratings’