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TV crime show host 'ordered ratings-boosting hits'

Eliminated rival drug dealers, Brazilian police claim

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The host of campaigning Brazilian TV crime show Canal Livre has been accused of coming up with an extreme method of boosting his ratings: ordering the murder of at least five people.

Suspicions that former police officer Wallace Souza had arranged the hits were aroused when his camera crews in Manaus, Amazonas, demonstrated an "uncanny knack" for being first on the scene of the crime.

According to Associated Press, police claim Souza and his son Rafael arranged the killings for the dual benefits of increased audiences and to eliminate rivals in their sideline drug-dealing business.

State police intelligence chief Thomaz Vasconcelos said: "We believe that they organized a kind of death squad to execute rivals who disputed with them the drug trafficking business. Souza would eliminate his rival and use the killing as a news story for his programme."

Canal Livre was a big hit with viewers, featuring Souza "railing against rampant crime" in Amazonas. His popularity led to him being elected to the state legislature - a position which now grants him temporary immunity from arrest pending the final outcome of the police investigation.

Rafael Souza, however, has been arrested on charges of "murder, drug trafficking and illegally possessing guns".

Wallace Souza has denied the charges, claiming that he and his son were "set up by political enemies and drug dealers sick of his two decades of relentless crime coverage on TV and crusading legislative probe".

He defended: "To say that a programme that has had a huge audience for so many years had to resort to killing people to increase this audience is absolutely absurd."

Canal Livre is no more, having pulled down the shutters last year as the probe into its alleged ratings-boosting scoops intensified. One such exclusive featured a reporter "approaching a freshly burned corpse, covering his nose with his shirt and breezily remarking that 'it smells like barbecue'", as AP puts it.

The victim in this case was, police say, one of the five narcos rubbed out at Souza's behest. ®

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