Brazil court forwards senate president for embezzlement trial

Renan Calheiros accused of misusing public funds to support daughter he had from affair

Renan Calheiros,  president of Brazil’s senate,  is accused of misusing public funds to pay child support for a daughter he had during an affair with a journalist. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Renan Calheiros, president of Brazil’s senate, is accused of misusing public funds to pay child support for a daughter he had during an affair with a journalist. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

 

Brazil’s constitutional crisis has deepened with the decision on Thursday evening by the country’s Supreme Court to send the president of the senate forward for trial on embezzlement charges.

The court voted 8-3 to accept charges filed by federal prosecutors nine years ago against Renan Calheiros, who is accused of misusing public funds to pay child support for a daughter he had during an affair with a journalist.

Brazil’s powerful bar association immediately demanded that he be removed from the senate’s presidency as a result.

Mr Calheiros is the latest senior elected official in Brazil to face losing his job over allegations of wrongdoing.

The decision follows the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in August for breaking Brazil’s fiscal laws and the removal and arrest on corruption charges of the former president of the lower house of congress, Eduardo Cunha, in October.

Graft scandal

Earlier this week an impeachment motion was filed against Ms Rousseff’s successor Michel Temer after he was accused of being involved in a graft scandal that toppled one of this closest ministers last week.

Mr Calheiros, one of Brazil’s most powerful but unpopular politicians, denies any wrongdoing.

As well as the charges accepted on Thursday, he faces 11 other criminal investigations before the Supreme Court, including involvement in the Petrobras scandal that toppled Mr Cunha and provided the backdrop for Ms Rousseff’s impeachment.

The supreme court’s ruling comes at a moment of heightened tension between Brazil’s legislature and judiciary, with judges and public prosecutors accusing the congress of trying to restrict their authority when it comes to investigating political corruption.

Federal prosecutors have been vocal this week in denouncing moves in the congress to gut an anti-corruption package so that, rather than facilitating the work of investigators, it would provide greater protection to elected officials by undermining the position of prosecutors.

Deltan Dallagnol, the federal prosecutor leading the two-and-a-half-year investigation into wrongdoing at state oil giant Petrobras, accused congress of taking advantage of this week’s air disaster involving the Chapecoense football team “to subvert the proposals” while the population’s attention was distracted.

Public anger

As public anger mounted at the manoeuvres by congress, and with the citizen groups that mobilised to impeach Ms Rousseff taking to the streets on Sunday against it, Mr Temer has promised to veto any law that amounts to an amnesty for corruption.

Meanwhile, Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht has started signing a plea-bargain agreement with prosecutors in which its owner states that Ms Rousseff knew about the multi-billion euro scheme to siphon money out of Petrobras.