By Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA One of Brazilian President Michel Temer's closest allies resigned as minister in charge of relations with Congress on Friday, following accusations he pressured the culture minister to approve a property investment. The resignation of Geddel Vieira Lima - along with accusations that Temer himself also raised the investment with then Culture Minister Marcelo Calero - rattled investors.Brazil's currency and stock prices sank as traders worried the turmoil would derail Temer's efforts to overhaul government finances and restore economic growth."It's time to go," Vieira Lima said in his emailed letter made public by Temer's office, following an announcement by the public prosecutor's office that it was considering whether to open an investigation. Vieira Lima's departure deprives Temer of his point man in negotiations with Congress, a key post for an administration striving to enact unpopular austerity measures to reduce a widening budget deficit and spur recovery in an economy suffering its worst recession since the 1930s.Temer's six-month-old government has lost five Cabinet ministers. Calero resigned last week saying he refused to bow to Vieira Lima's pressure.Previously, three Cabinet ministers stepped down over graft allegations related to a sprawling bribery and kickback scandal at state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro. (PETR4.SA)The latest resignation will further damage the reputation of an unpopular president and fuel political uncertainty that could delay a recovery that is already taking longer than expected.
"The problem for Temer is that this happened at a difficult time when the economy is not reacting and Brazilians are angry with politicians trying to escape prosecution for corruption," said political analyst Ricardo Ribeiro with consultancy MCM Consultores Associados."It creates doubts about the future of this government next year," he said.Brazil's political establishment is bracing for more turmoil from a leniency deal to be signed by engineering conglomerate Odebrecht SA in the Petrobras case that could incriminate as many as 200 lawmakers. The Brazilian realBRBY slumped as much as 2.2 percent to 3.4679 reais to the dollar, the biggest intraday drop since a day after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's unexpected victory. It later pared losses to trade 0.6 percent lower on the day,
Brazil's main stock market index, the Bovespa .BVSP, fell 1.3 percent before cutting losses to trade 0.2 percent lower.LUXURY APARTMENT
The latest corruption crisis came to a head following news reports late on Thursday that Calero told federal police that Temer pressured him to resolve a dispute with Vieira Lima.
The standoff involved a permit for construction of a luxury oceanfront building in which Vieira Lima had purchased an apartment and that needed approval by a culture ministry agency because it would be built in a historical preservation district in Vieira Lima's hometown of Salvador.After Brazil's public prosecutor's office said it was studying a possible investigation into the case, a presidential aide told Reuters early Friday that Vieira Lima's situation had become untenable.Adding fuel to the crisis, the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported on Friday that Calero secretly recorded his conversations with Temer and Vieira Lima to back his case.A presidential ethics panel decided on Monday to investigate whether Vieira Lima pressured Calero over the building. The 30-story building project had already been denied a permit on historical preservation grounds.A federal police source with knowledge of the statements said Calero told police that Temer had said to him last week that the permit refusal had created "operational difficulties for his government" and told him to find a solution with government lawyers. (Additional reporting by Alonso Soto. Editing by Daniel Flynn and W Simon)
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