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Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 23:38 GMT
Wife's TV attack on Brazilian mayor
Sao Paulo skyline
Municipal elections in Sao Paulo have made Mrs Pitta's accusations explosive
By Stephen Cviic in Sao Paulo

The mayor of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, Celso Pitta, is facing calls for his resignation after his estranged wife accused him of involvement in a massive corruption scheme.

In a dramatic nationwide television interview, Nicea Pitta said her husband had bribed city councillors to stop them from investigating illegal use of public money.

She also alleged that other prominent right wing Brazilian politicians were involved in irregularities.

This is municipal election year in Brazil and Mrs Pitta's interview with Global Television has fallen like a bomb in the middle of a campaign.

'Paying off councillors'

According to Mrs Pitta, her husband hired an intermediary to pay off city councillors who were threatening to impeach him last year. She says that at the time she suggested exposing the scheme by telling the police. But her husband refused.

Mrs Pitta, who recently separated from her husband after thirty years of marriage, also accused the president of the Brazilian senate, Antonio Carlos Magalhaes, of using bullying tactics to try to win repayment of debt owed by the city council to a company owned by his family.

The accusations have been strongly rejected by almost everybody involved.

Mr Pitta's office said his wife was delirious and Mr Magalhaes described her as mad.

Allegations may stick

But the public prosecutor's office says it's taking the allegation seriously and opposition councillors say they'll try once again to have the mayor impeached.

Mrs Pitta herself has in the past been accused of benefiting financially from government contacts. But many ordinary people will be inclined to believe her.

A strong whiff of corruption has surrounded the mayor and the council throughout their four year term. The scandal is likely to strengthen the chances of centrist and left wing candidates in the race to govern South America's biggest city.

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