Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles is suspected of involvement in a trafficking ring that sold illegal timber on the black market, a Supreme Court ruling said as police raided various ministry offices Tuesday.
The ruling suspended 10 high-ranking environment officials in President Jair Bolsonaro’s government from their posts, while police investigate what Justice Alexandre de Moraes called an “extremely serious scheme to facilitate the contraband of rainforest products, allegedly with the involvement… of Environment Minister Ricardo Salles.”
Salles was not among the suspended officials, but Brazilian media reports said police were searching his home in Brasilia Tuesday morning.
Some 160 officers also raided environment ministry offices in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and the northern state of Para, federal police said.
Activists and experts accuse Salles of systematically dismantling environmental protection programs in Brazil, where the destruction of the Amazon rainforest has surged since Bolsonaro took office in 2019.
In April 2020, the minister was recorded telling a cabinet meeting that the government should take advantage of the distraction created by the coronavirus pandemic to relax environmental regulations.
He later denied that he wanted to gut environmental protections, saying he meant only that the government should try to cut red tape.