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article imageBrazil court opens door for Congress to vote on Temer trial

By AFP     Sep 20, 2017 in World

A corruption trial against Brazilian President Michel Temer moved one step closer Wednesday when the Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch attempt to have the case suspended.

A 7-1 majority on the court voted against Temer's appeal to put the racketeering and obstruction of justice charges on hold, with three more justices still due to vote when the session was suspended.

That clears the way for the case to be considered by the lower house of Congress in Latin America's biggest country.

"It's up to the chamber of deputies now," said Justice Luis Roberto Barroso on casting his vote.

If the chamber of deputies votes by a two thirds majority in favor, Temer -- the first sitting Brazilian president to face criminal charges -- would have to stand down for 180 days and face trial at the Supreme Court.

However, the center-right president is confident he has enough support to easily defeat the charges, which are the peak in a mammoth graft scandal shaking the country. A first charge of bribe-taking in June was thrown out overwhelmingly by allied deputies.

The latest charges involve Temer's alleged agreement to pay hush money to keep a jailed politician from testifying and his leadership of a group in Congress that took millions of dollars in bribes from companies seeking state contracts.

His lawyers attempted to put the case on hold, arguing before the Supreme Court that one of the main pieces of evidence in the prosecution -- plea deal testimony from a meatpacking tycoon -- needs to be reconsidered because of irregularities.

His lawyers also argue that some of the alleged crimes took place before he was sworn in as president last year, after replacing impeached president Dilma Rousseff.

A review of the case might have suited Temer because the prosecutor general who brought the charges, Rodrigo Janot, stepped down at the end of last week. Janot was replaced by Raquel Dodge, whom analysts say may be less aggressive.

At issue now is testimony given by JBS meatpacking magnates Joesley and Wesley Batista, who confessed to conducting wide ranging bribery of politicians and testified against Temer.

- Alleged kickbacks ring -

Janot's charge against Temer illustrated the reach of Brazil's powerful prosecutors and judges in a three-year operation codenamed "Car Wash," which has uncovered vast networks of bribery and embezzlement throughout Brazilian politics and business.

According to the charges, Temer "acted as leader of a criminal organization" comprising senior officials from his center-right PMDB party. They allegedly took the kickbacks in exchange for contracts at public companies like oil giant Petrobras.

The alleged ring operated from May 2016, when Temer first took over as acting president from leftist president Dilma Rousseff following her impeachment, Janot's office said.

Temer called Janot's accusations "absurd" and accuses the prosecutor of overreach, -- an argument that has some sympathy in Congress, where scores of legislators are also accused of corruption.

Although Temer is expected to survive the congressional vote on a trial, he could still face prosecution after leaving office. His term ends at the start of 2019 and he is not expected to run for another term in October 2018 elections.

Also, his reputation is in tatters. Among those charged with him last week were his chief of staff Eliseu Padilha and Moreira Franco, a close confidant who holds a ministerial level administrative post in the presidency.

Another was a former minister, Geddel Vieira Lima, who was imprisoned this month after police discovered the equivalent of $16 million in cash stuffed into boxes and suitcases in an apartment he used.

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