Brazilian singer turned congresswoman held over husband’s murder

The Brazilian gospel star turned congresswoman accused of masterminding the murder of her preacher husband has been arrested after she was expelled from congress earlier this week.

Flordelis dos Santos de Souza, an evangelical celebrity famed for raising more than 50 children she claimed to have rescued from lives of poverty and crime, was detained on Friday night at her home near Rio de Janeiro.

As she was escorted to a police car outside the house – the same address where her husband was shot dead in June 2019 – the singer shouted: “Faith in God!”

Shortly before she was taken, Flordelis posted a video on social media in which she told fans: “The day nobody wished for has arrived. I’m being arrested for something I did not do … Pray for me.”

The 60-year-old church leader, who was recently ordered to stand trial for allegedly orchestrating the murder of Anderson do Carmo, 42, was taken to a prison in north Rio, just around the corner from Jacarezinho, the vast redbrick favela where she began her rise to fame.

Flordelis was born in Jacarezinho in 1961 as an evangelical revolution was sweeping Brazil’s deprived urban periphery.

Flordelis and her mother joined the Pentecostal movement, opening their own storefront church at the heart of the favela. By the late 1980s, as Rio was plunged into drug-related violence, Flordelis began leading young male disciples – among them a teenage Do Carmo – on late-night preaching sessions to convert the heavily armed gang members who ruled such areas with an iron fist.

Flordelis’s cramped home became a shelter for those boys and by the early 90s more than 50 people resided in the building, including Do Carmo, who would later become her lover and husband. That super-sized family helped catapult Flordelis into the public eye, and over the coming years she built a multimillion-dollar church empire and became a prominent gospel star, whose shows would draw thousands of adoring fans.

Some of Brazil’s top soap stars made a film celebrating the singer’s supposedly saintly life. In 2018, Flordelis decided to turn her Christian celebrity into votes, running for a place in Brazil’s 513-seat lower house just as Jair Bolsonaro launched his Bible-bashing campaign for the presidency.

Flordelis succeeded, winning almost 200,000 votes, and was embraced by Bolsonaro’s ultra-conservative administration when she touched down in the capital, Brasília, for his January 2019 inauguration. In a recent interview with the Guardian, the black, favela-born singer remembered her joy at securing a place in Brazil’s almost entirely white, male elite.

“I was over the moon – happy, happy, happy. I’d achieved things I could never have dreamed of. God went so far beyond my dreams, so very far,” said Flordelis.

But just over six months later those dreams collapsed when Do Carmo was shot dead in the early hours of 16 June 2019.

In the days afterwards, lurid details began to emerge in the Brazilian media, including claims the pastor had been found semi-naked and shot multiple times in the groin and that the couple might have spent their last night together at a swingers’ club. Flordelis rejected those claims as an attempt by rival church leaders and politicians to destroy her public image.

In August 2020, police formally accused Flordelis of masterminding a plot that allegedly involved three of her biological children and several informally adopted ones, although her parliamentary privilege meant she could not be arrested.

Flordelis lost that protection on Wednesday when congress voted overwhelmingly to expel her. She is expected to stand trial next year.

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