Could Brazil's Temer be impeached?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Since taking over for his ousted predecessor Dilma Rousseff last August, President Michel Temer has pushed forward several reforms to bring Brazil back from a two-year downturn, its deepest recession on record.

So far, the economy has failed to recover under Temer's watch – GDP contracted 3.6% last year, following a larger-than-expected 0.9% decline in 4Q16. And to make matters worse, the president could face a fate similar to Rousseff's as a result of increasingly damaging testimony from former executives at Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant at the heart of the Lava Jato scandal that has admitted paying bribes to secure projects throughout the region.

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The company's former institutional relations director Claudio Melo Filho has testified before Brazil's top electoral court (TSE) that Temer requested "financial support" from Odebrecht for his party, the PMDB, during the 2014 elections.

The former Odebrecht executive said that Temer – at the time the country's VP seeking re-election on the Rousseff ticket – attended a meeting with the company's ex-CEO, Marcelo Odbrecht, and Eliseu Padilha, now Temer's chief of staff.

"I participated in a dinner at the Jaburu Palace together with Marcelo Odebrecht, Michel Temer and Eliseu Padilha," said an excerpt from Melo Filho's statement, cited by daily Folha de S.Paulo. "Michel Temer requested, directly and personally from Marcelo, financial support for the PMDB campaigns in the year 2014."

According to the indictment, the transfer of 10mn reais (US$3.21mn) from Odebrecht to the PMDB was decided at that meeting.

The TSE began looking into the 2014 Rousseff-Temer ticket after right-wing opposition party PSDB filed a lawsuit accusing the campaign of being funded with proceeds from the Lava Jato corruption scheme.

In his own testimony given to the TSE on Wednesday, Marcelo Odebrecht – who is serving a 19-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering – confirmed a similar version of events, stating that he had discussed donations for the PMDB with Temer, but without mentioning a specific amount, which was only discussed with Padilha.

The Odebrecht testimonies are expected to be the last heard by the TSE, whose minister Herman Benjamin has suggested he intends to expedite the outcome of the case. Meanwhile, Temer's defense team may choose to stretch out the investigation phase by calling for new witnesses or challenging the case's course of action in order to delay the TSE decision until after he leaves office next year.

According to Folha de S.Paulo, Temer's lawyers are also looking at the possibility of having the Odebrecht testimonies stricken from the record. They could also contest or file requests for clarification of statements or documents used in the case.

With Rousseff out of the picture, the case is now focusing solely on Temer and whether or not he should also be impeached. If Temer is removed from office, congress would pick a successor to serve out the remainder of his term until elections are held at the end of 2018.