By Anthony Boadle and Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA The majority of judges on Brazil's top electoral court argued on Thursday to exclude testimony by construction executives on illegal campaign funding, suggesting they could throw out a case that has threatened to force President Michel Temer from office.Exclusion of the plea bargain testimonies from Odebrecht SA executives by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal would strengthen Temer's chances of not being found guilty of receiving illegal funding when he ran as former president Dilma Rousseff's running mate in 2014.A guilty ruling would annul the election result and unseat Temer, though he could appeal and remain in office until a final decision that could take months. That would deepen uncertainty over the fate of his economic reform agenda aimed at plugging a gaping budget deficit and pulling Brazil out of its worst ever recession.Justice Gilmar Mendes, who presides over the court known as the TSE, said any ruling would have to take into account the country's stability and not compel Temer to step down for an unwarranted minor reason. Mendes, as well as justices Napoleão Nunes Maia, Admar Gonzaga and Tarcísio Vieira, argued against allowing the Odebrecht testimony.In recent plea-bargain testimony, Odebrecht executives told prosecutors they funneled millions of dollars under the table to the 2014 campaign of Rousseff and Temer in return for government contracts. The Temer and Rousseff defense teams requested the testimony be scrapped by the TSE, holding that it went beyond the scope of an original complaint filed by the Brazilian Social Democracy Party after it lost the 2014 election."Temer has the votes to stay in office," said Welber Barral, a Brasilia insider and political consultant who is following the case closely, as is much of the country and its investors.
Barral said the court would most probably vote 4-3 to throw out the case to annul the Rousseff-Temer ticket. Any of the seven judges, however, could ask for time to study the case, which could delay a final ruling for weeks.IF TEMER SURVIVES TSE, UNLIKELY TO FALL
Temer opponents had been counting on a TSE ruling against the scandal-hit president to force him from office. The country is caught in a political crisis triggered by its biggest ever political graft investigation and last year's impeachment of Rousseff, whose supporters called it a soft coup arranged by Temer and allies to thwart the graft probe.
Temer himself is under investigation for allegedly receiving millions in bribes and obstruction of justice, and it is widely expected that Brazil's top federal prosecutor will formally charge him soon.The Brazilian real BRBY and the benchmark Bovespa stock index .BVSP slipped on Thursday on weak trading volumes, signaling increased investor caution over the outcome of the election trial.Temer has canceled meetings to follow the court session on television in his presidential office, an aide said. "The president is confident his defense with prevail," spokesman Marcio de Freitas told Reuters.The court, which began hearing the case on Tuesday, is expected to rule later on Thursday or on Friday.
If Temer is forced from office, lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia would take over, and Congress would have 30 days to pick a caretaker to lead the country until elections in late 2018. Temer has refused to resign despite bribery allegations made in plea-bargain testimony by executives of the world's largest meatpacker JBS SA (JBSS3.SA).If Temer survives the electoral court case and is charged by prosecutors for corruption, he is unlikely to fall. For the top court to put him on trial, the charges would have to be authorized by two thirds of the lower chamber of Congress, where his allies are still a majority.The PSDB party, Temer's main coalition ally, delayed until Monday a meeting on whether to pull its three ministers from his cabinet, which would erode his support in Congress, but not to the point that charges against him would pass the chamber. (Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Bruno Federowski in São Paulo Editing by W Simon and Andrew Hay)
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Published Date: Jun 09, 2017 02:47 am | Updated Date: Jun 09, 2017 02:47 am