Rio de Janeiro state legislators arrested in bribery probe

Brazilian police arrested state legislators in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday as part of an investigation into allegations they accepted bribes in exchange for supporting a criminal organization run by a former governor, officials said.

Former Gov. Sergio Cabral is serving a prison sentence for his participation in a massive corruption scheme in which prosecutors say he received hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to help companies secure contracts that ranged from projects in Rio's slums to the refurbishing of its Maracana Stadium. He is also accused of playing a central role in a scheme to buy votes when the International Olympic Committee chose Rio to host the 2016 Olympics.

Police arrested seven sitting state lawmakers on Thursday. Warrants were also issued for three others who have had their mandates suspended and had previously been taken into custody on other charges — two are in prison and one is under house arrest. Prosecutors are asking the court to strip the lawmakers, some of whom won re-election last month, of their seats.

Police have also executed dozens of search warrants and arrested 10 other people in connection with the probe. They are still seeking two other suspects.

The probe is part of Brazil's massive Car Wash investigation, which has revealed almost systemic graft in the political system. Scores of top executives and politicians have been jailed, unleashing a wave of anger against Brazil's political class that helped pave the way for far-right congressman Jair Bolsonaro to win the presidency last month.

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the legislators are accused of accepting monthly "allowances" — some worth tens of thousands of dollars — in exchange for supporting Cabral. Some also were allowed to hand out civil service jobs.

"The investigations tell a story: that of how an ex-governor neutralized, with bribes and other illicit benefits, the control that state legislators should exercise over the executive, and, in this way, the criminal organization spread to various state organs and entities, causing a breakdown in the services provided to the people," prosecutors said.

Many argue that corruption contributed to a financial crisis in Rio that, in turn, resulted in a deterioration of public services and hampered the police's ability to confront a spike in crime.