The Rio de Janeiro state legislature voted Wednesday to open impeachment proceedings against Governor Wilson Witzel over accusations he embezzled funds for fighting the coronavirus pandemic .
With 69 votes in favor and one abstention , legislators in the state – Brazil ’ s second- hardest – hit in the pandemic , after Sao Paulo — passed a motion to open an impeachment commission to investigate the allegations .
It was one of 14 impeachment motions facing Witzel, a former ally of President Jair Bolsonaro who denies the allegations and accuses the far – right leader of “political persecution . ”
If the commission decides to go ahead with impeachment proceedings , the legislature will hold another vote on whether to suspend Witzel from his job and put him on trial.
Map of Brazil
That process , which can last up to 180 days , would conclude with a vote on whether to remove him from office definitively .
Witzel, who backed Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential election, has become one of the president ’ s most outspoken opponents .
The pair have notably clashed over the response to the pandemic . Bolsonaro is a fierce critic of the stay – at- home measures adopted by Witzel and other governors to curb the spread of the virus , arguing they are needlessly wrecking the economy .
Police raided the governor ’ s official residence last month as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of funds to build field hospitals for coronavirus patients , an emergency measure to avoid the collapse of the state health system.
Witzel, 52, again denied wrongdoing.
“I was elected with the fight against corruption as my pillar , and I will never abandon that flag , ” he said in a statement .
Brazil is the latest epicenter in the pandemic , with nearly 40, 000 deaths , the third – highest toll in the world after the United States and Britain.