‘Cor­rupt judge the cor­rupt’ in Brazil

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

ON MON­DAY, Brazil’s pres­i­dent be­came the coun­try’s first sit­ting leader to be charged with cor­rup­tion. Now the fate of his ad­min­is­tra­tion lies in the hands of Congress – a body that is also en­meshed in the coun­try’s huge cor­rup­tion scan­dal.

Brazil’s chief pros­e­cu­tor ac­cused Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer of ac­cept­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes from the world’s largest meat­pack­ing com­pany, JBS.

The com­pany’s ex­ec­u­tives tes­ti­fied to po­lice that the pres­i­dent took money in ex­change for fa­cil­i­tat­ing tax breaks and loans from state banks. The charges are the lat­est blow to the un­pop­u­lar pres­i­dent, whose ad­min­is­tra­tion is hang­ing on by a thread af­ter se­cret record­ings emerged last month show­ing him en­dors­ing bribery in a con­ver­sa­tion with the meat­pack­ing com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Pros­e­cu­tors ac­cuse Te­mer of or­ches­trat­ing a $11.5 bil­lion (R150bn) bribe scheme with JBS over the past nine months.

Brazil’s lower house, packed with con­gres­sional mem­bers fac­ing their own cor­rup­tion probes, must now de­cide whether to green-light the pres­i­dent’s trial be­fore the Supreme Court.

If they vote to send him to trial, Te­mer will be placed on a six-month leave, and the speaker of the house, Ro­drigo Maia him­self un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion will take over as in­terim pres­i­dent.

“It’s the cor­rupt judg­ing the cor­rupt,” said David Fleis­cher, an ex­pert on Brazil­ian pol­i­tics and pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Brasilia.

Te­mer rose to of­fice in 2016 af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor, Dilma Rouss­eff, was im­peached. Be­fore tak­ing of­fice, he vowed to crack down on cor­rup­tion. He quickly fired key ad­vis­ers and cab­i­net mem­bers sus­pected of graft.

De­spite pres­sure from his al­lies, he pub­licly sup­ported Op­er­a­tion Car Wash, a sprawl­ing cor­rup­tion probe that threat­ened his base in Congress. But less than a year into his term, Te­mer finds him­self at the heart of the probe and at the mercy of some of these con­gres­sional mem­bers.

While Te­mer’s al­lies say he can muster the 172 votes needed to block the trial from go­ing for­ward, his base may crack as new ac­cu­sa­tions emerge. The chief pros­e­cu­tor is ex­pected to charge Te­mer with sep­a­rate counts of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice and or­ga­nizsd crime ac­tiv­ity in the com­ing weeks.

“If this drags out for four or five months, we may see a lot of new ac­cu­sa­tions. It will build up and add gaso­line to the fire,” Fleis­cher said.

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