Fri | Mar 23, 2018

Brazil top court reinstates defiant Senate chief

Published:Friday | December 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Brazil's top court reinstated the head of the Senate on Wednesday, overturning an order by one of its members who set off a constitutional confrontation by suspending the lawmaker from his leadership duties while he faces trial.

On a 6-3 vote, the full Supreme Federal Tribunal put Senator Renan Calheiros back on his job one day after the key ally of President Michel Temer refused to abide by the suspension order issued late Monday by Justice Marco Aurelio Mello.

However, the full court decision stopped Calheiros from being No. 2 in line for the presidency while he stands trial on corruption charges in one of 12 suits against him.

Despite the favourable decision for Calheiros, he probably won't face an easy time with Brazil's top court in the near future. Chief Justice Carmen Lucia said Calheiros turned his back to the whole judiciary by refusing to obey the suspension ruling.

Calheiros, whose term as president of Brazil's upper house ends in February, and the board of the Senate published a letter Tuesday refusing to recognise Mello's order.

All members of the court referred to the lawmakers' defiance in their votes.

"Brazil is living an institutional anomaly at this moment," Justice Luiz Fux said, though he voted in favour of Calheiros.

Mello called the senators' defiance "inconceivable" and "grotesque."

"These are strange times in this suffering Republic," he said.

Sen. Jorge Viana of the Worker's Party would take over if Calheiros was permanently removed as Senate president. Viana is an adversary of Temer and an ally of former President Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached earlier this year and replaced by Temer, her vice president.

Losing Calheiros as Senate president would be a severe blow to Temer, who is hoping to push through Congress a series of belt-tightening measures this month.

Before the court voted Wednesday, several Brazilian media outlets reported that Temer, Viana and others had approached justices to negotiate a middle of the road solution to avert a constitutional crisis.

The case in which Calheiros is to stand trial dates from 2007, when he was also the head of the Senate. At the time he was forced to resign after accusations he received kickbacks from the lobbyist of the Mendes Junior construction company. Calheiros has denied any wrongdoing.

The Supreme Federal Tribunal also has several open investigations against Calheiros in the sprawling corruption probe at state-run oil giant Petrobras. A former senator who is a business executive has charged that Calheiros received almost US$10 million in bribes over 10 years.

A former Petrobras director accused Calheiros of threatening to withhold support unless he was paid off. The same person said Calheiros was paid US$1.7 million through a Petrobras lobbyist in a case related to drill ship contracts.

Calheiros denies wrongdoing in those cases, too.

- AP