Brazil Supreme Court suspends Senate president over corruption

Brazil Supreme Court suspends Senate president over corruption

Tue Dec 6, 2016 7:11AM

Brazil’s Supreme Court has suspended the head of the country’s senate as he faces charges of embezzlement, toppling another main ally of President Michel Temer.

Judge Marco Aurelio Mello ordered the suspension of Renan Calheiros on Monday but the ruling must be backed by a majority of judges on the Supreme Court bench, a court official said.

The ruling comes after calls by an opposition group, Rede, to suspend Calheiros as any person facing trial could not be in the presidential line of succession.

The speaker of the senate is the second in line after the head of the lower house as Brazil currently does not have a vice president.

The vice president of the upper chamber, Senator Jorge Viana of the leftist Workers Party, will replace Calheiros until senate elections in February.

Calheiros still keeps his senate seat and can appeal the ruling. He did not make any comment, but his office said he would step down on Tuesday morning when he was officially notified.

Last week, Calheiros was ordered to face trial on misusing public funds in a nine-year-old case.

He also faces trial on 11 other corruption charges, most of them connected to the massive probe into the corruption scandal engulfing Petrobras, the state-owned oil company. He is accused along with numerous senior politicians of helping steal billions from the firm.

The suspension of Calheiros struck a new blow at President Temer who has lost six cabinet ministers since May, most of them over corruption charges.

It also hinders the passing of unpopular austerity measures, including a cap on public spending which Temer says is necessary to help the country recover from its worst recession in decades.

The measure is scheduled to be put to a final vote in the senate on December 13.

“How can we vote for this explosive agenda in the climate of instability in which no one knows who is in command of the senate,” said Senator Paulo Paim of Workers Party, who calls for delaying it until the new session.

Calheiros had tried to pass an urgent reform that would challenge judges’ powers to probe corruption that was met with large-scale protests.

On Sunday, thousands of people poured into the streets of Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro, to express their opposition to alleged attempts by the scandal-plagued congress to shut down a huge anti-graft probe and to demand for Calheiros’ ouster.

Brazil is currently witnessing what is believed to be the biggest anti-corruption push in its history.

Prosecutors have charged nearly 200 people, including top executives and politicians. At least 83 people have already been found guilty and sentenced.

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