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Murderous Brazilian crime show host does a runner

Ordered hits to boost ratings

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The host of a hit Brazilian TV crime show has disappeared after being stripped of the political immunity which prevented him being arrested on charges of arranging hits to boost his show's ratings.

Former police officer Wallace Souza fronted Canal Livre, in which he "railed against rampant crime". So popular was the show that Souza was elected to the Amazonas state legislature - something which proved temporarily handy when he was accused of ordering at least five murders.

Police began to suspect that Souza and son Rafael had arranged the executions in state capital Manaus when Canal Livre camera crews displayed an "uncanny knack" for being first at the scene. The authorities claimed the pair were killing two birds with one stone: pumping the show's audience and eliminating 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."

Wallace Souza claimed 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 added: "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."

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

Dad remained at liberty thanks to his political immunity, until judges last week removed that protection. Souza is now on the run, and police have set up road blocks around Manaus and tightened airport security.

Divanilson Cavalcanti, head of the investigative task force, confirmed: "We served an arrest warrant yesterday and he fled. We are looking for him now. His lawyer has been in touch and he is looking for a way to turn himself in. But we'll get him."

Canal Livre shut up shop last year as the police investigation intensified. Souza's political career is also at an end: he's been removed from office and banned from holding office for eight years. ®

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