By Jake Spring and Maria Carolina Marcello
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles resigned on Wednesday, facing a criminal investigation into whether he obstructed a police investigation of illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest (NASDAQ :).
A Supreme Court judge authorized Salles’ investigation earlier this month after federal police raided the minister and other officials that allegedly allowed the illegal export of timber.
“I understand that Brazil throughout this year and next on the international stage and also on the national agenda needs to have a strong union of interests,” Salles told reporters in Brasilia. “So that this can be done in the most serene way possible, I submitted my resignation.”
The outgoing minister had acted as Brazil’s lead negotiator in talks with the United States on financing to preserve the Amazon rainforest, where deforestation has increased since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019.
Those negotiations had stalled, with the last meeting held more than a month ago, according to two sources familiar with the matter, who said it was unclear whether the delay was related to Salles.
Salles had faced strong criticism from global environmental advocates, after remarking in a recorded cabinet meeting that the Brazilian government should push for environmental deregulation while the public was distracted by the pandemic.
To replace the minister, Bolsonaro appointed Joaquim Álvaro Pereira Leite, according to the official government gazette.
A former board member of the Brazilian Rural Society, a century-old lobby group for agricultural interests, Leite had served as secretary of the ministry for the Amazon and environmental services.
“Whoever sits in the minister’s chair will obey Bolsonaro’s orders and will continue to implement the policy of environmental destruction, just as Salles did,” said Marcio Astrini, head of the environmental group Climate Observatory, in a statement.
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