Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil mayor who ran town via WhatsApp wanted for corruption

Federal Police car leaves Eletrobras building, 28 July 15 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The alleged corruption scheme was unveiled after a nationwide Federal Police investigation

A mayor in Brazil is on the run after she was accused of siphoning off funds from the school system and running the town remotely through WhatsApp.

Lidiane Leite, 25, lived a life of luxury in the capital of Maranhao state, prosecutors said.

They say her only contact with her town, Bom Jardim, was through daily WhatsApp messages to her cabinet.

An arrest warrant has been issued against her and her boyfriend, who served as her main adviser.

Ms Leite's lawyer said she was not aware of any wrongdoing.

'Young and inexperienced'

She was in her early 20s when Beto Rocha, her boyfriend, was banned from running for mayor in 2012 for alleged corruption.

Ms Leite stepped in and was elected. She appointed Mr Rocha as her main adviser and went to live in the state capital, Sao Luis, 275km (170 miles) away.

"She was too young and and inexperienced when she took office," said her lawyer, Carlos Barros. "She lacked confidence and delegated many tasks to Mr Rocha."

Brazilian media say the couple ended their relationship earlier this year and Mr Rocha resigned shortly after.

Ms Leite went on the run after her name was mentioned in a federal investigation on the misuse of state education funds.

Operation Eden uncovered evidence that some $4m (£2.6m) in funds for Bom Jardim's schools went missing.

The town's already precarious education system has now collapsed. Teachers are not being paid.

An arrest warrant was issued on Thursday and a new mayor - Ms Leite's former deputy - was sworn in on Saturday promising to carry out a full investigation.

A state judge said he would seek an international arrest warrant if she does not hand herself in by Tuesday.

Maranhao, in north-eastern Brazil, is one of the country's poorest states.

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