Brazilian lawmakers angrily debated ahead of an unprecedented vote on whether President Michel Temer should face trial for alleged corruption, just a year after his predecessor was booted from office. Opposition deputies brandished placards today mocking Temer’s rockbottom approval ratings and wheeled in a suitcase similar to one used by a Temer aide when he was caught carrying the equivalent of USD 150,000 cash in alleged bribe money. “Out with Temer,” they shouted.
Temer, a deeply unpopular veteran of the ruling center-right PMDB party, is accused of taking bribes from a meatpacking industry executive — part of a wider scandal sucking in major politicians of every stripe.
If two-thirds of deputies in the lower house of Congress authorize a trial and the Supreme Court accepts the case, Temer would be suspended and lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia would take over.
The upheaval comes only 12 months after Congress ejected Temer’s leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff in an impeachment trial for breaking budget rules.
Temer is the first sitting president to face criminal charges and now the left, which opposes his business-friendly economic reforms, smells a chance for revenge.
“A thief is a thief and needs to be treated as a thief,” Major Olimpio, a deputy with the leftist Solidariedade party, told the assembly.
But analysts believe Temer has enough support to stop a two-thirds majority, in which case the charge would be thrown out.
The president’s lawyer, Antonio Claudio Mariz de Oliveira, called the case “fiction.”
Temer himself was bullish, telling lawmakers at a dinner held Tuesday to try to win their support that he is “the victim of banditry and that he needs to fight back,” Globo newspaper reported.
There had been an opposition bid to prevent today’s vote from going ahead in order to leave Temer hanging and even more vulnerable to new charges.
However, lawmakers unexpectedly reached the required quorum of two-thirds of the 513 deputies quite quickly.
Each deputy was to vote individually and in public on live national television, making a short statement. The process, once started, will take hours to complete.
Temer is the highest-profile target in Brazil’s Operation Car Wash anti-graft probe, which has uncovered rampant bribery and embezzlement in big business and high politics. Expectations are that top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot could file a second criminal charge — for obstruction of justice — in the coming weeks.
In the current charge, Temer is alleged to have been the intended recipient of the cash being carried by a close aide in Sao Paulo. The money was allegedly an installment in millions of dollars of bribes that the JBS meatpacking giant agreed to pay Temer.
In a separate investigation, prosecutors cite a secretly recorded late-night meeting between Temer and one of JBS’s owners, Joesley Batista. In the recording, Temer allegedly is heard authorizing hush money payments to a onetime senior politician convicted of corruption, Eduardo Cunha.
Batista gave prosecutors the recording as part of his cooperation in a plea deal, one of the many that Car Wash investigators have used to build graft cases.
But Temer has proved a canny operator in Brazil’s toxic political landscape.
Rousseff claimed to have been the victim of a coup mounted by the right, including Temer, who was her vice president. Once impeachment proceedings began, she was swiftly pushed out.
Temer, however, has shored up his own teetering coalition with political patronage and support from business interests that back market reforms aimed at strengthening signs of a tepid economic recovery.
“Five major parties have already decided to back the president and that alone comes to 200 votes,” said an aide.
Temer then would need only the support — or abstentions — of 172 deputies to bury the charge against him.