The cameras turn on crime show host in murder probe

Presenter accused of ordering five killings so his programme's reporters could be first on the scene.

Picture the scene. Crimewatch ratings are tanking; viewers in this era of reality television have tired of those quaint reconstructions of tough cases that need cracking. And so, at the end of their tether, the presenters dream up an ingenious plan: hiring hitmen and then sending in the cameras to capture it all exclusively on film.

Nick Ross and Fiona Bruce may never have plumbed such desperate depths but their Brazilian counterpart allegedly has.

Wallace Souza, the presenter of the Canal Livre crime show for the past two decades, now finds himself on the receiving end of a police investigation. The 50-year-old, who also happens to be the most popular politician in Amazonas state with a reputation for being tough on crime, is suspected of commissioning at least five murders to boost his ratings.

Mr Souza launched Canal Livre with the help of his brother in 1989. "The courageous brothers, as they're known, bring hope to the less fortunate," read the show's blurb. "Showing a naked and raw reality to call authorities' attention to social problems."

Whether these lofty ideals had much resonance with the 1.7 million residents of Manaus, the capital of the largely-lawless Amazonas state where the show was broadcast, is unclear.

What helped keep viewers hooked, however, was the programme's uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right crime, capturing grisly footage of still-warm victims followed by the dramatic, if belated, arrival at the crime scene of the Brazilian forces of law and order.

"Nowadays everyone is killing," Mr Souza would rail, wagging his finger to camera. "Manaus can no longer live with this wave of crime."

In one memorable episode, a Canal Livre reporter is seen pulling back branches in the rainforest to reveal a charred corpse. "It smells like barbecue," he quips, covering his nose. "The body's still smoking." Investigators now say that this unfortunate victim was one of those whose death warrant was signed by Mr Sousa.

"He went as far as creating facts and ordering crimes be committed to generate news for the programme," Thomaz Vasconcelos, the head of police intelligence in Amazonas state, told Brazilian television.

"The order to execute always came from the legislator and his son, who then alerted the TV crews to get to the scene before the police."

All of a sudden, the show's sixth sense is looking decidedly more sinister. Less Crimewatch, more Murder He Wrote.

The presenter vehemently denies the accusations laid at his door. "To say that a programme that has had a huge audience for so many years had to resort to killing people ... is absolutely absurd," he told the Associated Press in an interview. His team managed to get to the scene so quickly, he explained, thanks to round-the-clock monitoring of police radio frequencies, and impeccable sources at police stations and the morgue, who provided the all-important tip-offs.

Mr Souza has always displayed a strong interest in crime. He served as a police officer for Amazonas state, but left the force under a cloud in 1987. He says that he was wrongly accused of being involved in a scam involving college entrance exams and departed of his own accord. Officials say he was kicked out for stealing fuel and defrauding pension funds.

His reincarnation as a presenter and public-spirited crime-stopper took place two years later and, using the television platform, he swiftly propelled himself into the political arena.

He is serving his third term in the state legislature after winning more votes than any other politician in Amazonas at the last election.

Mr Souza believes that the scandal now engulfing him has been manufactured by his political enemies, jealous of his popularity with the electorate, and by drug dealers who are trying to shut down his crusade against crime in the state.

"I was the one who organised legislative inquiries into organised crime, the prison system, corruption, drug trafficking by police, and paedophilia," he said.

But prosecutors paint an altogether different picture of the politician, saying that he has close links to the very underworld he is reportedly trying to crush, and that he is himself a big player in the local drugs trade.

Not only did the murders give him the opportunity to generate exclusive scoops for Canal Livre, but he could also eliminate pesky druglords muscling in on his turf, they say.

"They organised a kind of death squad to execute rivals who were competing for the drug trafficking business," said Mr Vasconcelos, the police intelligence chief. Mr Souza is facing charges of drug trafficking, forming a gang, and possessing illegal weapons. He has not been arrested because he enjoys legislative immunity as an elected politician.

However, his son Rafael, who worked as a producer on the show, has been detained on charges of homicide, drug trafficking and illegal gun possession, and another 15 people have been arrested.

Investigators received their first clue that all might not be as it appeared following the arrest of Mr Souza's former security guard last October. Moacir Jorge da Costa reportedly confessed that at least one of the nine murders of which he stood accused had gone on to be aired on Canal Livre, his former boss's show.

Absolute rubbish, says Mr Souza's lawyer, Francisco Balieiro, dismissing the security guard's purported confession as nothing more than the desperate strategy of a criminal hoping for some last-minute leniency.

"All the investigations made by the public ministry and the police have not been able to present any proof of any kind," Mr Balieiro quipped to Brazilian television.

State justice officials must now decide whether the case goes forward. Canal Livre may have been taken off the air but Mr Souza is not going to be out of the limelight any time soon.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own