Brazil’s apex court authorizes new investigation of president

Brazil’s President Michel Temer attends a meeting with trade unionists at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on Tuesday. — Reuters

SAO PAULO — Brazil’s top court authorized a new corruption and money laundering investigation of President Michel Temer on Tuesday, yet another case that raises the possibility of his suspension from office.

Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso ruled there is sufficient evidence to investigate whether Temer signed a decree in May 2017 to favor a company operating in the port of Santos in exchange for bribes.

Barroso also authorized an investigation of Rodrigo Rocha Loures, a former Temer aide accused of carrying bribe money for Brazil’s leader in a separate case.

Temer said in a statement that he “had no interference in the debate” which led to the decree and that he “accepted the deliberations and technical advice, without any kind of political pressure staining the whole process.”

Brazil’s top prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, whose attempt earlier this year to put Temer on trial for a corruption charge was rejected by Congress’ lower house, will lead the new investigation until his term ends on Sunday. Raquel Dodge, an appointee of the president, will take over as chief prosecutor Monday.

There is no deadline for the top prosecutor to decide on the case.

If Temer should be formally accused by Janot or Dodge, Congress would have to vote again on whether the president should be put on trial. If two-thirds of deputies agreed, Temer would be suspended for up to six months and the leader of the Chamber of Deputies would fill the presidency until the end of the trial.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s once hugely popular president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva faces a new grilling on Wednesday by the country’s chief anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro, in a case that could decide whether Lula can return to power.

Lula, who is a frontrunner in the October 2018 presidential election despite multiple corruption charges, will be questioned by Moro in the southern city of Curitiba.

The testimony is part of 71-year-old Lula’s trial for alleged bribe taking from the scandal-plagued Odebrecht construction giant. He is already a defendant in four other corruption trials.

And in July, Moro sentenced Lula to 9.5 years prison after being convicted in a sixth trial of receiving a seaside apartment from the OAS construction company in return for help obtaining lucrative contracts with the Petrobras oil company.

Lula, the founder of Brazil’s leftist Workers’ Party, is free pending appeal of that sentence and hopes to string out or defeat the other cases so that he can run for a third term next year.

But problems are mounting for the man whose 2003-2010 presidency made him Latin America’s new leftist giant.

Although Lula tops the polls, that is partly because campaigning hasn’t started and name recognition gives him a head start. Also, his negative ratings are far higher than for other candidates. — Agencies