By Peter Prengaman, Associated Press, Aug. 10, 2016 (with related reporting further below)
RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian Senate voted overwhelmingly on August 10 to put suspended President Dilma Rousseff on trial, moving Brazil’s first female leader a step closer to being permanently removed and underscoring her failure to change lawmakers’ minds during the last several months.
After some 15 hours of debate, senators voted 59-21 to put her on trial for breaking fiscal rules in her managing of the federal budget. It was final step before a trial and vote on whether to definitively remove her from office, expected later this month. The political drama is playing out while Rio de Janeiro is hosting the Olympics, which run through Aug. 21.
The outcome was widely expected: The Senate already voted in May to impeach and remove Rousseff from office for up to 180 days while the trial was prepared.
Wednesday’s vote underscored that efforts to remove her may have actually gained steam despite her attempts to woo senators who have expressed doubt about the governing ability of interim President Michel Temer, who was vice president under Rousseff. by Taboola More from AP Column: More fuss, please, for Rio’s Olympic moms Judge denies Blagojevich’s bid to lighten 14-year sentence
“No one can commit crimes with impunity,” said Sen. Aecio Neves, a proponent of Rousseff’s ouster.
Senators pushing for her removal needed only a simple majority to require a trial. Not only did they get much more than that, they also garnered an ample margin over the super-majority — at least 54 — they will need to permanently remove her.
“This is not an easy situation,” Jose Eduardo Cardozo, the top legal official in Rousseff’s now-suspended administration who is leading her defense, told Brazilian news portal G1 after the vote in the capital of Brasilia.
Cardozo said that he would look at new appeals to the nation’s top court and that several senators who voted in favor of a trial may be reluctant to take the heavier step of removing her from office.
“In that way, the final vote isn’t tethered to today’s result,” he said.
Still, the situation does not look hopeful for Rousseff. Her appeals to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the nation’s top court, have failed, and attempts to rebuild her image with voters have apparently fallen short.
Brazil’s economy, the largest in Latin America, is mired in its worst depression in decades. Layoffs and late payments to some state workers have spurred deep anger. The country has also been struggling to confront the Zika virus, which causes birth defects in infants born to infected women and has ravaged thousands of families in poor, northeastern states.
In another bid to head off the Senate trial, the ruling Workers’ Party appealed for help from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It was unclear what impact, if any, that would have.
Temer, Rousseff’s vice president-turned-nemesis, took over after her impeachment in May. He has been sharply criticized for appointing a Cabinet of all white men in a country where more than 50 percent of the population is non-white. Three of his ministers have been forced to resign for allegations related to corruption, and despite promises to get Congress moving after months of paralysis, he has struggled to push through reforms.
Rousseff has repeatedly said she did nothing wrong and argued that other former presidents did similar things in their handling of the federal budget. She has argued that behind her removal are attempts to tamp down a wide-ranging corruption probe into billions of dollars in alleged kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras.
Dozens of top businessmen and politicians have been jailed in the two-year investigation. While much of the graft happened during the 13 years her Workers’ Party was in power, Rousseff repeatedly declined to do anything to squelch the investigation. She argued that the probe was badly needed in Brazil, where graft in politics is endemic. Investigators in the Petrobras case have said the company even had a department to handle bribes.
Over the last several months, Rousseff and her aides have heavily courted several senators who they thought might change their minds. Rousseff, who has remained in the presidential palace, has also floated the possibility of calling new elections. In several interviews, she has said she would be open to a plebiscite.
While those comments were widely seen as an attempt to persuade wavering senators to put her back in office, new elections before 2018 would be difficult. For that to happen, both Rousseff and Temer would have to be removed, or decide to resign from office. While Rousseff’s fate looks to be all but decided, it’s unlikely Temer would stand down.
The 75-year-old career politician has said he would not run again in 2018, and in fact has little choice in the matter: The country’s electoral court has banned him from running for election for eight years because of campaign finance violations.
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Former Brazilian President Silva to stand trial
By Mauricio Savarese, Associated Press, July 29, 2016
RIO DE JANEIRO – A Brazilian judge has accepted charges against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for allegedly obstructing a corruption investigation involving state-run oil giant Petrobras, clearing the way for one of the country’s best-known political figures to stand trial.
The decision published on Friday names Silva and five others as co-conspirators in an alleged attempt to buy the silence of a former Petrobras director implicated in the scandal. A date for the trial has not yet been set.
The obstruction-of-justice accusation against Silva comes from a plea bargain testimony by former Sen. Delcidio do Amaral, who was stripped of his seat by his peers and will also stand trial.
On Thursday, Silva’s lawyers filed a petition at the U.N. Human Rights Committee alleging a lack of impartiality and abuse of power by another judge investigating the Petrobras scandal.
Silva, who is universally known in Brazil as Lula, denied any wrongdoing. “It is up to the prosecutors and federal police to prove what they say,” he said.
His supporters say the latest decision by federal judge Ricardo Leite is retaliation for lodging the petition with the U.N. committee.
It is the first time that the former president Swill stand trial for charges related to the Petrobras scandal. He is also accused by Sao Paulo state prosecutors of money laundering and criminal misrepresentation in connection with an alleged real estate scheme that benefited him and his family.
Silva governed from 2003 to 2010. Despite a votes-for-bribes scandal that took down his chief of staff, he left office with record high popularity levels and his hand-picked successor, Rousseff, handily won the presidency. But his popularity has since been battered by corruption allegations and an economic downturn that undermined his successor.
Two men in line for Brazilian presidency accused of corruption
By The Associated Press, May 10, 2016
The impeachment proceedings against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff have put a spotlight on endemic corruption in the ranks of lawmakers. Some 60 per cent of the 594 legislators in both chambers of Congress are being investigated for wrongdoing or are facing corruption charges, according to watchdog groups. Many of the investigations are related to a kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras. The two men in line to replace Rousseff if she is impeached, and a third who would have been in line, are themselves being investigated in the Petrobras and other cases.
First in line: Vice President Michel Temer.
— A former senator turned state’s witness recently accused Temer of appointing a lobbyist to distribute bribes between 1997 and 2001 in ethanol deals through Petrobras. He denies wrongdoing.
— Temer is accused of arranging the appointment of a Petrobras director who was involved in a series of corruption cases linked to Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. He denies knowing the man.
— As acting president, Temer signed the same kind of budget decrees that triggered the current impeachment process against Rousseff. Detractors have already signaled they may try to impeach him based on those actions.
— Temer is being investigated for receiving more than US$ 1.5 million in funds from a construction company that works with Petrobras. Temer says they were legal campaign donations.
— Authorities seized spreadsheets from construction company Camargo Correa that showed Temer’s name listed 21 times alongside numbers that added up to $345,000, allegedly in bribes. While the case was thrown out in the courts, the investigation is credited with having led to the current Petrobras probe.
Second in line: Senate leader Renan Calheiros.
Calheiros would be acting president if the event that Temer was traveling. Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal is currently considering seven investigations against Calheiros in the Petrobras probe. He denies wrongdoing in all. Included in those seven are:
— Calheiros is accused by a lobbyist of being paid $600,000 to stop a Senate probe of corruption in Petrobras.
— Calheiros is accused by a former Petrobras director of threatening to withhold support unless he was paid off. The same ex-director says Calheiros was paid $1.7 million through a Petrobras lobbyist in a case related to drill ship contracts.
— In a plea bargain, another former Petrobras director accuses Calheiros of using lower Chamber of Deputies representative Anibal Gomes to be pay bribes for contracts with constructors.
Former Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha would have been the second in line. However, last week the country’s highest court removed him from office while he is investigated in several corruption probes so he doesn’t figure into the line of succession. A look at the cases against Cunha, who led the impeachment push against Rousseff in his chamber and frequently tweets verses from the Bible. He denies wrongdoing in all of them.
— Brazil’s chief investigator has requested the Supreme Court remove Cunha from office because of all the allegations of wrongdoing against him and for allegedly obstructing justice. The court has not yet made a decision.
— In March, prosecutors accused Cunha of corruption and money laundering for his role in negotiating contracts for drill ships, including a payment of $5 million.
— Swiss prosecutors say Cunha owned secret bank accounts at Julius Baer bank. In December, those accounts had 2.4 million Swiss francs, according to local reports. Brazilian investigators say they believe those funds are connected to corruption with a Petrobras oil field operation in Benin.
— Brazilian investigators say Cunha also has held undeclared accounts in the United States since 1990, with funds of more than $20 million.
— A senator-turned-government-witness said Cunha and the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party were paid more than $10 million by BTG Pactual bank to get an executive order approved by the lower house.
— In court testimony from a lobbyist who pleaded guilty in the case, Cunha is accused of being paid bribes worth more than $12 million from constructors Odebrecht, OAS and Carioca to renovate Rio’s port area ahead of the Olympic Games.
Brazil’s ex-president appeals to UN over abuses of power in corruption case
Agence France-Presse, July 28, 2016
LONDON – Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has filed a petition with the UN human rights committee outlining alleged abuses of power in the corruption case he is embroiled in.
At a press conference in London, his Brazilian and British lawyers said they had just returned from the United Nations in Geneva where they had lodged the petition.
The dossier outlined alleged violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and alleged abuses of power by judge Sergio Moro.
Moro heads the investigation into a vast scam centered on state oil company Petrobras in which contractors paid bribes to receive inflated contracts, and stolen money was funneled to politicians and political parties.
The investigation is known as Operation Car Wash.
Lula faces a corruption case related to the Petrobras scandal and is being investigated for an allegedly much wider role in the scheme.
“Lula is bringing his case at the UN because he cannot get justice in Brazil under its inquisitorial system,” said high-profile British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.
“The same judge who is invading his privacy in this case can have him arrested at any moment and will then become his trial judge, deciding on his guilt or innocence without a jury.
“This is a serious fault in the inquisitorial system as it operates in Brazil.”
The petition invites the committee to find that the Brazilian justice system should be changed so that a judge investigating a case should not also be the trial judge.
The petition alleges that Lula’s right to privacy, freedom from arbitrary arrest and right to be presumed innocent until found guilty has been violated.
Lawyers for the 70-year-old Workers’ party founder said the leftist icon’s phone and those of his family and lawyers had been tapped, with transcripts and audio then leaked to Brazilian media – some of which, they claimed, was illegally obtained outside the remit of a warrant.
Robertson claimed the probe amounted to a “gross violation of the most fundamental right to a fair trial”.
“There’s no evidence that he took backhanders or kickbacks in the period when he was president,” he added.
Dozens of top executives and politicians at both the Workers’ party and its rivals have been charged or investigated over involvement in the scheme, which flourished for much of Lula’s 2003-2010 presidency.
The scandal has unfolded in parallel with the fall from power of president Dilma Rousseff, who took over from Lula. She was suspended from office for an impeachment trial, potentially ending 13 years of Workers’ party rule.
Lula’s lawyers confirmed he would not be attending the 5 August opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, which was secured under his presidency, due to the “political turmoil” in the country.
Brazil would have six months to respond to the petition, with the committee, comprised of 18 international jurists, set to take up to a further six months to reach a decision.
Brazil ratified the committee’s protocol in 2009 and Lula’s lawyers expect the state to implement any findings the committee makes.
Brazil’s coup gov’t hit hard with more big fraud scandals
Local media largely ignores allegations that coup leaders accepted millions in bribes and illegal campaign contributions.
While Brazil’s media focuses its attention on the Rio Olympics, new revelations continue to shine a light on the glaring contradictions inhererent in the unelected government’s efforts to impeach suspended President Dilma Rousseff for allegations of fraud. The latest bombshell disclosure – relegated to the inside pages of Brazil’s biggest daily newspapers—accuses unelected “interim” President Michel Temer and his Foreign Minister Jose Serra of receiving millions of dollars in corporate kickbacks.
According to a report by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, Temer’s interim Foreign Minister Jose Serra accepted more than US$12 million—23 million Brazilian reals—in slush fund money from the construction company Odebrecht to finance his unsuccessful 2010 presidential campaign against Rousseff.
The allegations were made by Odebrecht executives, including jailed CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, in a plea bargain deal with prosecutors as part of the corruption investigations known as Operation Car Wash, which centers on fraud in the state oil company Petrobras. Part of the payment was reported made through Serra’s offshore bank accounts, which Odebrecht reportedly identified via bank statements.
Serra – who also unsuccessfully ran for president against Rousseff’s predecessor Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in 2002 – denied the allegations, claiming that he ran his 2010 campaign “in accordance with the law” and that any financial matters were the responsibility of his Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB, Folha reported.
Meanwhile, the Odebrecht plea bargain has also revealed that the company secretly paid over US$3 million, or 10 million reals, to Temer’s 2014 campaign for vice president on a ticket with Rousseff after he asked Odebrecht for “financial support,” according to the Brazilian daily Veja. Temer’s conservative Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, was in a coalition with Rousseff’s Workers’ Party at the time, a relationship that formally broke down in the runup to her suspension from office in May, in a move widely condemned by both Brazilians and the international community as a parliamentary coup.
Temer is already banned from running for public office for eight years over charges that he violated campaign finance laws and has compiled a “dirty record” in elections, although the coup leaders have made it clear that they intend to install him as president in the event that Rousseff is impeached in a trial later this month. Three of Temer’s ministers have resigned as a result of corruption charges since being installed in office in May.
Despite the revelations over the weekend, come Monday morning the front pages of Brazil’s major newspapers were overwhelmingly dominated by coverage of the Olympics. Brazil’s corporate mainstream media, especially the newspaper O Globo, have repeatedly been accused of whipping up support for a coup, while reporting by The Intercept accused Folha of committing journalistic fraud.
The major corruption revelations, solidifying Temer and Serra’s suspected involvement in the Petrobras scandal, come as high-level members of the opposition are pushing for an investigation of the Workers Party, known by its Portuguese acronymn, PT, for allegations of using Petrobras revenues to finance electoral campaigns. Those allegations, while unproven, could lead to the revocation of the political party that has won the last four presidential elections in the country.
Gilmar Mendes, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and member of the Supreme Court, last Friday ordered additional investigations into irregularities in the PT’s finances, even though the books had already been reviewed following the last election and no wrongdoing was found, Brasil de Fato reported. Temer met with Mendes in the vice-presidential palace at the end of May.
Although members of Rousseff’s PT have been embroiled in the Petrobras scandal, the suspended president herself is not accused of financial impropriety or personal enrichment, unlike many of her top rivals pushing for her impeachment on the grounds that it is an attempt to root out government corruption.
Damning wiretap recordings, leaked as part of a plea bargain deal for former state oil executive Sergio Machado, have also revealed that top opposition members sought to put a stop to Operation Car Wash corruption investigations through Rousseff’s ouster and schemed with members of the Supreme Court to make it happen.
Despite Temer’s widespread unpopularity, and mounting evidence of corruption against him and his lieutenants, the Senate voted in the early hours of Wednesday morning to plow ahead with the impeachment process. If two-thirds of the body votes later this month to impeach her, she will be permanently removed from office, installing Temer for the remainder of her term.
Also on Telesur:
Attempted coup in Brazil seeks to reverse election results, by Mark Weisbrot, April 5, 2016
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