December 13, 2017

President decries ‘made-up accusations’ as member of his party is jailed for 14 years

Friday, June 16, 2017

Temer likely to cling to power after winning PSDB’s backing

President of the Superior Electoral Court Gilmar Mendes smiles during a session in which the justices decided not to take up a 2014 case that could unseat President Michel Temer.

BRASILIA — Brazil President Michel Temer looks likely to cling onto power, after developments related to the fall-out from the ongoing Operation Car Wash (“Lava Jato”) investigation went his way this week.

The Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), the main ally of the president’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), announced this week that it would stay in his coalition for now, despite a move by younger members to break away from the scandal-plagued government.

Speaking at an executive meeting of the PSDB, party leaders said a decision to stick with Temer was based on the need to support his austerity measures in Congress to balance Brazil’s overdrawn fiscal accounts.

The president’s acquittal last Friday in an illegal campaign funding case dating from the 2014 election strengthened his position among some of those wavering in the PSDB.

The electoral court, known as the TSE, voted 4-3 to acquit the Dilma Rousseff-Temer ticket of wrongdoing. That avoided the annulment of their election and the removal of Temer from office. He took over a year ago following Rousseff’s impeachment in the midst of Brazil’s worst recession on record. In a decisive move, that same majority had ruled last Thursday not to allow as evidence in the case plea-bargain testimony from 77 executives of the Odebrecht construction firm, which is at the centre of the vast political graft scheme. Those witnesses told investigators they funnelled millions of dollars in illegal funds into the 2014 Rousseff-Temer ticket. But the testimony was made more than a year after the beginning of the case that concluded last Friday, and without it Temer’s lawyers argued there was no proof of wrongdoing.

“We cannot be changing the president of the Republic all the time, even if the people want to,” said the court’s chief judge, Gilmar Mendes.

Mendes, a judge appointed under former PSDB president Fernando Henrique Cardoso who backed the impeachment of Rousseff, said the country should not expect the court to solve the current political crisis.

‘Not at this time’

With the PSDB on board, Temer is more likely to muster support for his economic measures and block any attempt to have the Supreme Court try him for corruption charges.

“The PSDB will not at this time make any move to leave the government,” Senator José Serra, a former foreign minister in the Temer administration, told reporters.

“We have to continue in the government to back the reforms that are helping the economy recover. Indicators are improving substantially,” the PSDB governor of Paraná state, Beto Richa, added.

With Brazil emerging from a two-year recession, Richa said international investors and credit rating agencies were raising their growth projections for this year. But those forecasts are conditioned on the advance of austerity measures, he added.

Temer’s administration has been shaken by accusations he endorsed payment of hush money to buy the silence of a potential witness in a corruption probe and took bribes from giant meatpacker JBS SA. The president is being investigated for corruption and obstruction of justice. Brazil’s top prosecutor is expected to file charges against the president in the coming days.

Temer repeated his claims of innocence in an online video this week.

“Precisely at the moment we are left with the most serious economic crisis in our history, at a time there were clear signs that the reforms would be approved by Congress, they attributed to my government a bunch of accusations that are made up” and aimed at framing him, the president said.

Senior PSDB leaders managed to hold back a movement by younger lawmakers who want to quit the government and pull the four PSDB ministers out of Temer’s Cabinet.

Many of the party’s 46 lawmakers in the lower chamber of Congress wanted to abandon Temer’s coalition. They are worried voters will punish them at the polls next year for being part of a government widely perceived as corrupt.

“Our party has not won an election in 16 years and the electorate has changed a lot. Voters no longer tolerate traditional political practices,” said another PSDB leader, requesting anonymity to speak more freely.

Corruption allegations that led to the ouster of the PSDB’s former leader and presidential candidate in 2014, Aécio Neves, were a “bombshell” that weakened the party and made it imperative to take distance from Temer, he said.

Neves was accused of asking for a two-million reais bribe from JBS President Joesley Batista.

Former Rio governor

sentenced to 14 years

A former governor of Rio de Janeiro who was a key figure in hosting Brazil’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics was sentenced this week to 14 years in prison for corruption.

Sergio Cabral was arrested in November last year on multiple bribery and money-laundering charges, including participation in the embezzlement of 220 million reais (US$64 million) from public works projects such as Rio’s iconic Maracanã football stadium.

While Cabral, 54, was sentenced to 14 years and two months behind bars, his wife Adriana Ancelmo was acquitted for lack of evidence.

In the case, in which the sentence was announced Friday, Cabral was accused of taking kickbacks for construction contracts including at an oil refinery in Rio state. He faces charges in nine other cases.

Judge Sergio Moro said in his sentencing that Cabral’s bribe-taking was partly to blame for the state’s near bankruptcy today, “where the population and public servants are suffering.”

Prosecutors said that Cabral insisted on kickbacks amounting to five percent of the value of contracts as Rio state ordered huge public works projects ahead of the World Cup and the continent’s first Olympics. The powerful governor lived high on the proceeds, splurging on jewelry and other luxury items.

Cabral, a member of Temer’s PMDB, was governor of Rio from 2007-2014, a period that began when Brazil was riding high on strong prices for oil and other commodity exports, but ended in crippling recession. He resigned in 2014 amid violent demonstrations against corruption and budget cuts.

— Herald with agencies

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