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    A demonstrator holds a t-shirt reading "Marielle is Present" in a protest against the shooting of Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 May 2018

The unnamed witness claims councilor Marcello Siciliano and paramilitary chief Orlando Oliviera de Araujo planned the activist's murder.

A key witness in the Marielle Franco case has alleged that a councilor and a military police officer are responsible for the murder of the activist in March.

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The witness, whose identity remains protected, says he was part of a powerful paramilitary organization in Rio de Janeiro, and agreed to testify about the case in exchange of personal protection, according to the local newspaper “O Globo.”

He claims to have been present at meetings between councilor Marcello Siciliano, from the Solidarity Humanist Party (PHS), and Orlando Oliviera de Araujo, a former member of the Military Police and chief of a paramilitary group, in which they were planning the assassination of Franco.

Siciliano was concerned about Franco because she was getting in the way of his businesses in a favela in western Rio de Janeiro, and the witness claims Siciliano wanted to “do something about her.” He then provided the police with four names of hitmen that the councilor was considering for the job.

Marielle Franco was involved in community work in impoverished neighborhoods in the city, focusing on empowering Black woman. Apparently, she choose to work in a place where Siciliano had great electoral interests and Oliviera de Araujo's paramilitary group operates.

“The ex-police was a sort of foreman of the councilor,” said the witness. Prosecutors are taking the witness' declaration into account, but they haven't made a public statement on it.

Oliviera de Araujo was arrested in 2017 and he is currently in prison, but evidence shows he still operates his paramilitary group from behind the bars. The witness claims the former military police ordered Franco's assassination from prison as an arrangement with Siciliano.

But Siciliano denies any connection with the paramilitary chief, and rejects the witness' account of the events. That information “is completely false,” he told AFP. “It's such a coward thing to accuse me in that way. Marielle, besides a coworker, was my friend. We even had law projects in common.”

Franco was murdered on March 14 along with her driver, sparking outrage in Brazil and the rest of the world. Prosecutors had already pointed at paramilitary groups as possibly responsible for her assassination.

These groups were supposedly born to face drug cartels, enjoying a tacit approval from security forces, but they later began carrying out extortions and territorial disputes, even joining the same groups they were fighting in the beginning.

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