Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 00:10 UK

Brazil makes corruption arrests

By Tim Hirsch
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Map of South America

Brazilian authorities have arrested 16 mayors and a judge for their alleged role in a major corruption scheme.

The country's federal police claim more than $100m (50.8m) of public money was diverted in a complex plot to defraud Brazil's social security agency.

More than 50 people were arrested after an eight-month investigation.

These include the mayors of 16 cities, as well as nine lawyers and a federal judge accused of selling the decisions that made the scam possible.

The mayors are mainly from the state of Minas Gerais, north of Sao Paulo.

Cash seized

The allegations are extremely complicated.

The centrally-held money is said to have been released fraudulently to local authorities, having been held as bond for funds still owing from social security payments.

As well as the arrests, the police seized a large amount of cash, several luxury vehicles, and two aircraft.

In a swoop on homes of one mayor, so much cash was found - about $600,000 - that a counting machine had to be borrowed from a bank.

For a weary Brazilian public, it is yet another example of alleged wrongdoing amongst their elected officials.

While some claim it shows that at least corruption is being exposed, so far a string of similar police operations does not seem to be deterring some public servants from using their position for public profit.

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