SAO PAULO -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made two major personnel changes Monday, seeking to cap off a series of developments perceived as damaging to his administration before October's presidential election.
The first move brought the exit of Brazil's embattled education minister, who resigned amid a scandal involving allegations of evangelical pastors demanding bribes. Politicians of different parties, including some supporting Bolsonaro, had wanted Milton Ribeiro to leave the job.
The second shift came at the country’s state-run oil giant Petrobras, with Bolsonaro changing its president after the company boosted fuel prices to pass some of the global oil increases to consumers. Bolsonaro's pick for a new Petrobras president must be approved by the company’s board.
Brazil’s official gazette said Bolsonaro accepted Ribeiro’s resignation, making him the fourth education minister to exit since the start of the administration in 2019.
Bolsonaro had been facing public pressure to remove Ribeiro given the allegations could further dent the far-right leader’s reelection chances in October. Conservative evangelicals have been a key constituency of Bolsonaro, who is trailing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in opinion polls.
Brazilian media published several stories and leaked audio recordings since last week, alleging that two pastors served as unofficial advisers to the education ministry. They were reportedly favoring municipalities run by their allies, and demanding bribes including a kilogram of gold.
Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported that the outgoing minister said Bolsonaro had authorized him to attend to the two pastors. The newspaper posted a recording of Ribeiro telling several mayors that the government prioritized municipalities whose requests were backed by the duo.
The Supreme Court has authorized prosecutors to investigate. The Federal Police are also investigating the accusations.
Bolsonaro won office in 2018 partly based on his promises to root out corruption. The allegations regarding the pastors posed a threat to that image, which he has struggled to maintain amid several investigations involving his administration.
Ribeiro denied any wrongdoing in a statement. He also said he had informed police and prosecutors about suspicions of corruption of members of his ministry since August.
“There are four foundations that guide me: God, family, honor and my country," Ribeiro said, adding that he was leaving the job so Bolsonaro's administration was not tainted by accusations.
“I make this decision with a broken heart. I appreciate the truth and I know there needs to be time for truth to be reached,” he said.
Hours later, Brazil’s energy ministry announced that Gen. Joaquim Silva e Luna was leaving his job as president of Petrobras less than one year after taking over. His replacement will be economist Adriano Pires, a well-known consultant for the oil and gas industry. Bolsonaro also tapped Rodolfo Landim, the president of soccer club Flamengo, to the board.
Brazil's president is irritated by Petrobras' current pricing policy given its inflationary impact on the general public during an election year. He wanted to tap someone who would refrain from making further adjustments, said one of Bolsonaro’s ministers with direct knowledge of the action. The person agreed to discuss the matter only on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Inflation is running above 10%, particularly weighing on the purchasing power of low-income Brazilians. Petrobras earlier this month increased prices of fuels sold to its distributers by as much as 25%, citing the war between Russia and Ukraine. That threatens to further stoke inflation.
While Petrobras has autonomy to set prices, a survey published by pollster Datafolha on Sunday said that 75% of respondents blame Bolsonaro’s administration for inflation.
Associated Press writer Debora Alvares in Brasilia contributed to this report.