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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager,Conduct Risk,London,£5-600pd

£500 - £600 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

£450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

Senior Fund Administrator - Edinburgh - £22 p/hr

£20 - £22 per hour + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Fund Administrator, Top Four ...

Nursery Nurse

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a better wo...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on