Brazilian minister accused in corruption scandal resigns
President Michel Temer may face inquiry over influence peddling
Brazil’s president Michel Temer (right) with Geddel Vieira Lima, who has resigned as government chief secretary. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images
Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, is facing possible investigation in an influence-peddling scandal that is the latest corruption crisis to rock his recently installed administration.
The affair cost him another member of his cabinet on Friday and the country’s chief federal prosecutor is considering including Mr Temer in an inquiry into the latest affair, in which a minister is accused of pressuring a colleague to favour a controversial building project in which he had a personal interest.
The scandal broke a week ago when culture minister Marcelo Calero, a career diplomat, suddenly resigned from cabinet after less than six months in the job.
He claimed he quit after his cabinet colleague Geddel Vieira Lima demanded he use his position to force federal preservation authorities to allow the building of a 30-storey apartment building in a protected historic district in the city of Salvador.
The government’s chief secretary, and one of Mr Temer’s closest collaborators, Mr Vieira Lima had bought an apartment in the luxury La Vue development off the plans and was furious that the department within the culture ministry charged with protecting Brazil’s historical patrimony had then embargoed it.
Mr Vieira Lima’s unit, estimated to be worth €750,000, was to be on the 26th floor of the building and he was left furious when preservation authorities said that to maintain the historic nature of the neighbourhood the project could not pass 13 storeys, leading him to seek out the culture minister.
At first the administration sought to downplay the matter and the government’s base in congress rallied around Mr Vieira Lima, seeing off efforts to haul him in for questioning before deputies.
But the scandal reignited after details emerged of a statement by Mr Calero to federal police in which he said the president, Mr Temer, had lobbied him on Mr Vieira Lima’s behalf. To back up his claims he said he had recordings of their conversation
In a meeting the day before he resigned Mr Calero said he was “cornered” by Mr Temer, who told him the the dispute over La Vue was creating “operational difficulties” in his office because Mr Vieira Lima was “pretty irritated” over the matter. Mr Calero told police he felt “disappointed” with the president’s attitude, quitting government the next day.
Mr Temer has admitted discussing the matter but denies any wrongdoing.
The supreme court passed the former minister’s testimony to the chief federal prosecutor, who can ask the court to open an investigation into the president.
News of the testimony and the fact Mr Calero had recorded conversations to back it up led Mr Vieira Lima to quit on Friday, before the affair further damaged the president. He is the sixth ministerial casualty in the last six months.
Despite the resignation of Mr Vieira Lima, the opposition is threatening to try and open impeachment proceedings against Mr Temer, just three months after he was formally sworn in following the impeachment of predecessor Dilma Rousseff.