SÃO PAULO – A former army colonel who recently gave evidence of his involvement in the torturing and killing of political adversaries during Brazil’s military dictatorship has been found dead at his Rio home, local media reported on Friday.
Paulo Malhães, 76, was discovered in his apartment in the Nova Iguaçu area, to the north of Rio de Janeiro. The local police homicide division say he was suffocated.
Malhães, his wife and a house-sitter were reportedly held captive for hours after three men entered the property. The intruders left with a number of weapons that the former colonel kept at the address. Only Malhães was harmed.
Police are also investigating the theft of Malhães’ computer as a possible attempt to destroy evidence.
Precisely a month ago the former colonel gave a witness statement to the National Truth Commission, set up to investigate crimes committed during the country’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, in which he described his involvement in the torturing and murder of political prisoners.
He revealed to the Commission how he had mutilated and hidden his victims’ bodies, and made headlines after he said:
“When you cut off the head of a snake, you put an end to the snake.”
Among the victims whose disappearance Malhães covered up was former Brazilian lawmaker Rubens Paiva, who was killed in 1971.
Vitória Garbois, from Brazilian human rights organisation Tortura Nunca Mais (“Torture Never Again”), said on Friday she feared repercussions for people investigating the crimes.
“It’s appalling what’s happened,” Garbois was quoted by the G1 news portal as saying. “We human rights representatives must stay alert. If this can happen with someone from the military, we are in danger.”
Malhães told the Commission he did not regret what he had done, and was unsure as to how many people he had killed during the dictatorship.
Despite the Commission’s investigation, no trials can take place for the crimes committed as an amnesty regarding human rights abuses during the dictatorship was passed in 1979 and remains in force.
Debate on repealing the law was recently revived as Brazil marked 50 years since the 1964 military coup d’état which ushered in the 21-year period of military dictatorship in which around 500 people were killed or disappeared.