Brazilian MPs throw out multimillion-dollar bribery charges against President Temer

Brazilian MPs throw out multimillion-dollar bribery charges against President Temer
The Brazilian parliament’s congressional committee voted to dismiss the graft charges leveled at the country’s president, Michel Temer, for his alleged role in a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme, involving Brazil’s meatpacking giant.

The Committee on Constitution and Justice (CCJ) voted to spare Temer from being prosecuted for obstruction of justice and allegedly being a member of a criminal organization, as it approved a report prepared by Congressman Bonifácio de Andrada earlier this month.

In the report Andrada recommended to drop the charges, denouncing the probe into Temer as an attempt to criminalize “political party activities,” and warning that the president’s ouster will plunge the country into a deep political crisis. Thirty-nine members of the commission voted in favor of the report, 26 against and one abstained, ANSA reported.

At the same time, only 13 members of the 66-member body voiced support to Temer, while others who backed the report argued that the evidence was not compelling enough for a criminal investigation to be based upon it.

Some opposition members were up in arms over the vote.

MP Henrique Fontana, from the Workers’ Party (PT), argued that the decision will allow high-ranking officials complicit in corruption to get away scot-free.

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"My dream is that millions of Brazilians read the 250 pages of this consistent complaint, a report with evidence, a report that describes in detail a series of criminal acts committed against our country," he said, adding that such crimes “are putting the country on the verge of collapse,” as cited by Brasil247.

It still remains to be seen if the lower house of the National Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, will decide to go ahead with the suit next week, when it is expected to vote on the issue. However, it seems more likely that the opposition lawmakers will fail to secure a two-thirds majority, or 342 votes, needed to set off the proceedings.

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Temer’s presidency has been mired by corruption accusations from the very start. In June, he became the first incumbent head of the Brazilian state to be formally charged with corruption. In his statement to the country’s Supreme Court, Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot alleged that Temer “fooled Brazilian citizens” by taking some 38 million reais ($11.5 million) in bribes from the world’s biggest meatpacking company, JBS SA, through his associates.

Temer was reported to have been arranging bribes through his political allies.

A close aid to the president, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, was arrested after he was caught red-handed receiving a suitcase with 500,000 reais ($150,000), an alleged bribe for Temer from JBS SA.

In May, co-chairs of the meatpacking company, Joesley and Wesley Batista, handed over recordings of Temer allegedly discussing cash payments to former parliament speaker, Eduardo Cunha. Cunha is currently serving jail time on corruption charges involving the country’s state-run oil giant Petrobras.

It is the second time that Temer has faced the threat of impeachment in little more than a year of his presidency. In June, Brazil’s top electoral court voted 4-3 against annulling the result of the 2014 elections over the alleged illegal financing of Dilma Rousseff’s presidential campaign. The annulment of those election results would have meant the removal of Temer, who was Rousseff’s running mate at the time.

Temer succeeded his former ally, Rousseff, after she was impeached in 2016 for manipulating statistics to cover the soaring budget deficit to secure reelection in 2014.

Thousands of people rallied in Brazil for the ouster of increasingly unpopular Temer in light of various graft allegations, as well as against his austerity policy and social welfare reforms, envisioning cuts to retirement benefits.

Brazil has been grappling with widespread corruption for years. In July, Brazil’s former president and Rousseff’s political mentor, Luiz Inácio da Silva, viewed by many as a national hero fighting poverty throughout his term, was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for corruption.