Brazilian Mayor Lidiane Leite, 25, is on the run after allegations of her corrupt reign and use of a WhatsApp account to run her town are being investigated. Leite is being accused of embezzling funds from the public education system to fund her extravagant lifestyle.
Max Ribeiro, a spokesman for the Federal Police from the northern state of Maranhao told CNN Leite has disappeared for 12 days with no leads to her whereabouts.
“She is the most wanted person in Maranhao now. She can’t hide for much longer.”
Citizens of Bom Jardim, a town 170 miles southwest of Sao Luis, the capital of the tropical Maranhao state and one of the most impoverished regions in Brazil, are outraged. They have taken to the streets to protest against the political corruption after seeing pictures of their mayor sipping champagne at parties and nightclubs and posing on jetskis with friends during lavish holiday escapes.
According to Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, the young mayor wrote on Instagram:
“Before I was mayor I was poor, and had a Land Rover.
“Now I’m in a Toyota SW4. I should have bought a better car, because thanks to God money is no longer a problem.”
“There were also complaints that she was leaving town every week and sending orders over phone apps like WhatsApp.”
Investigators believe the mayor kept in contact with her cabinet and ran her town hall via her Whatsapp messaging account while she was away. Federal police estimate over $1 million was embezzled in the corruption scandal that was linked to several other members of the local government.
Police believe around $4 million in funds was taken from Bom Jardim’s schools. The education system in the town has since collapsed as there are not enough funds to pay teachers, the Telegraph reports.
A state judge has declared there will be an international arrest warrant for Leite if she does not voluntarily turn herself in today. An arrest warrant was also issued for Leite’s husband and political advisor, Beto Rocha.
According to Brazilian media, Leite’s husband ran for mayor of the city back in 2012 but was disqualified from the election because of corruption allegations. Leite replaced him as a candidate instead and he remained as her advisor.
Her lawyer, Carlos Barros, released a statement last week implying that Leite’s decision to hide from police was not premeditated. Barros said she hid from police in a “moment of panic,” according to Brazilian website Cidades Em Foco. He claimed in his client’s defense:
“She [Leite] was too young and inexperienced when she took office … She lacked confidence and delegated many tasks to Mr. Rocha.”
Leite’s former deputy was recently sworn in as mayor and will be continuing the investigation of the corruption scandal.