Brazil president loses another aide as pressure mounts
Brazilian President Michel Temer has lost yet another of his key advisers - leaving him with just one of the original five at a moment he's struggling to hang on to power.
Former lawmaker Sandro Mabel published a letter on Wednesday saying he needs to spend more time with his family.
Three other aides had resigned or been fired earlier amid the corruption scandals that swirl around the administration - and Brazil's political class in general. Temer is resisting calls to resign over an audiotape that appears to show him approving hush money for a convicted former lawmaker.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the capital of Brasilia to demand the president's ouster.
Temer's attempt to win back confidence and stay in power was undermined Tuesday as one aide was arrested in a fraud scheme. Another aide turned over to the police a bag full of cash, and shouts of "Down with Temer" led a Senate commission to suspend work on a package of the president's labour reforms.
Tadeu Filippelli, who had an office neighbouring Temer's in the presidential palace, was arrested in connection with a fraud investigation into renovations of the Brasilia soccer stadium for the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil's federal police say the construction works were overpriced by more than US$260 million.
Hours after the arrest, Temer fired Filippelli.
In the same operation, two former governors of Brazil's Federal District, which includes the capital Brasilia, were also arrested: Jose Roberto Arruda and Agnelo Queiroz.
Filippelli heads the Brasilia branch of Temer's Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, was vice-governor of the Federal District under Queiroz, and is one of the five special aides to the president.
Four of those aides have now been linked to corruption scandals. Only two remain in their positions.
Brazil's top court has opened investigations into Temer for alleged obstruction of justice and involvement in passive corruption. He says he's innocent and rejects calls to resign.
hush money surrendered
Meanwhile, another Temer aide, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, surrendered a bag filled with part of the US$150,000 in alleged hush money meant for former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, federal police said.
Brazil's top prosecutor said last week that Loures was suspected of serving as the president's courier in sending funds to Cunha, and prosecutors had already released a video showing Loures running out of a S„o Paulo restaurant carrying the bag. In a recorded conversation with an executive of the JBS meatpacking company, he had identified himself as Temer's middleman.
Temer has denied any wrongdoing and says that an audiotape that appeared to show him endorsing such a bribe was faked.
Despite the wave of bad news for Brazil's president and growing pressure for him to resign, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said in a meeting with investors in S„o Paulo that the political crisis will not stall the agenda for more austerity measures and unpopular reforms in the pension system and in labour laws.
Asked by journalists whether he could be a candidate for president if Congress has to choose a replacement for Temer, Meirelles only smiled and waved.
At Congress, tensions were high when a Senate commission started discussing Temer's reform of labour laws, at a very early stage. Allies of the president had just barely won a vote to read the report in favour of the overhaul when opposition lawmakers insisted no discussion should be made during the current political crisis.
Insults and shouts of "Down with Temer" forced the head of the commission to adjourn.