Brazil prosecutor wants arrest of Senate boss, ex-president – reports
BRASILIA, Brazil – Brazil's corruption-fueled political crisis was on the verge of new escalation Tuesday, June 7, as authorities are reportedly seeking the arrest of senior figures in the push to impeach suspended president Dilma Rousseff.
If reports in the main Brazilian newspapers are confirmed, new doubts would be cast over the impeachment of Rousseff, pushing Latin America's biggest economy into ever greater turmoil with less than two months to go before Rio de Janeiro hosts the Summer Olympics.
Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot has asked the Supreme Court to authorize the arrests of Senate President Renan Calheiros, former Brazilian president Jose Sarney, Senator Romero Juca and powerful lawmaker Eduardo Cunha, O Globo newspaper reported.
The report, which did not name its sources, was matched by two other newspapers shortly after. However, officials at the prosecutor's office and Supreme Court refused to confirm the information to the Agence France-Presse.
The four are accused of participating in a huge embezzlement and bribery network based on state oil company Petrobras.
According to the reports, Janot now accuses them of trying to obstruct the probe into the scheme, known as Operation Car Wash. The alleged evidence against them came from secret recordings of conversations made by a former oil executive, Sergio Machado, who is cooperating with Car Wash prosecutors in a plea bargain.
If confirmed, the scandal would be a huge blow against interim president Michel Temer, who took the reins after the suspension of Rousseff last month for her impeachment trial. All four in the prosecutor general's crosshairs are from Temer's PMDB party, which has been crucial to pushing impeachment through Congress.
Calheiros is a particularly key player because he is overseeing the impeachment proceedings in the Senate, which are expected to culminate in August with a vote on whether to remove Rousseff from office. Cunha was in charge of the proceedings earlier when they passed through the lower house.
Rousseff is accused of taking illegal loans to mask holes in the state budget during her narrow 2014 re-election drive.
She says the accounting practice was not illegal and describes the impeachment as a coup aimed at removing the left from power and stopping the Car Wash probe, which has already snared dozens of top-ranking executives and politicians from both left and right.
The capital Brasilia is in the grip of a power struggle in which Rousseff has looked increasingly sure to be pushed out of office. Her suspension in May was approved easily by the Senate, leading to predictions that the final Senate vote – now expected for near the time of the August 5 Olympics opening ceremony – will also go against her.
However, Temer has had a turbulent first few weeks in power, since taking over with a promise to unite the nation and start lifting the economy out of deep recession.
Several of his ministers are implicated in the Car Wash probe, and the gradual leaking to the press of parts Machado's secret recordings have sent shockwaves through the new government.
Recordings in which Juca allegedly discussed using the impeachment process to derail Car Wash have already forced his resignation as Temer's planning minister and his return to the Senate.
Rousseff, meanwhile, is negotiating with senators to prevent the needed two thirds majority to impeach her.
One strategy, according to analysts, is that she would promise to back early elections – a popular idea with Brazilians sick of the dysfunctional political elite. Otherwise, the next elections would take place in 2018, with either her or Temer in power until then.
A big unknown, however, is whether Rousseff's predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva intends to stage a comeback. He remains popular on the left but is also caught up in the Car Wash probe.
Late Monday he told a gathering of trade union activists that the right was "afraid of me returning" and did not rule out an attempt. However, he said, "I am at the retirement age." – Damian Wroclavsky, AFP/Rappler.com