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News > Latin America

Brazil Leak Shows Senate Chief Wants to Halt Corruption Probe

  • Protesters demonstrate in support of suspended President Dilma Rousseff and against the interim government of Michel Temer, Sao Paulo, May 22, 2016.

    Protesters demonstrate in support of suspended President Dilma Rousseff and against the interim government of Michel Temer, Sao Paulo, May 22, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 May 2016

The latest wiretap adds to proof that suspended President Dilma Rousseff's political rivals wanted to oust her to stop corruption investigations against them.

A second major leak hit the political scene in Brazil on Wednesday, revealing that the head of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, planned to negotiate with the Supreme Court about removing suspended President Dilma Rousseff from office while also scheming to change laws governing investigations into corruption.

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In the leaked recording reported by the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo, Calheiros is heard telling Sergio Machado that all politicians are “afraid” of the corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash, a series of probes revolving around fraud and bribery in the state oil company Petrobras.

Calheiros is caught on tape saying he wants to change the plea bargain rules, a cornerstone of the investigations, as a way to halt the anti-corruption campaign.

The Senate president, a member of unelected interim President Michel Temer’s PMDB party, and Machado, former president of the state oil company Transpetro, a subsidiary of Petrobas, are both targets of Operation Car Wash.

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The leak comes after another explosive wiretap earlier this week revealed that interim Planning Minister and then-Senator Romero Juca was scheming with members of the Supreme Court and military command to ensure Rousseff’s ouster.

In the conversation, also with Machado, Juca makes clear that the goal of removing the president from office is to put a stop to the Operation Car Wash investigations, of which he was also a target. Juca has stepped aside from his cabinet post over the leak.

The Calheiros recording also reveals that the Senate chief planned to “negotiate” with the Supreme Court over guaranteeing Rousseff’s “transition.”

The leaks provide the strongest evidence to date that the real motivations behind removing Rousseff from office center around protecting the corrupt political establishment from facing investigations and prosecution—quite the opposite of how the impeachment process has been portrayed as a bid to root out government fraud. Evidence of alleged negotiations with state institutions also make the whole process appear even more like a coup.

What’s more, the implication of the Supreme Court in negotiations with corrupt lawmakers about removing the president and stalling investigations casts a serious shadow on the legitimacy of the institution, which will play a key role in overseeing Rousseff’s impeachment trial.

In response to the leak, Calheiros’ spokesperson told Folha that the recording does not provide evidence that the Senate president intended to interfere with anti-corruption investigations.

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And Supreme Court communications told Folha that Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, who will coordinate Rousseff’s impeachment trial process in the Senate, “never held talks about alleged ‘transition’ or ‘changes in criminal law’ with the people cited,” referring to Calheiros and Machado and their claims in the recording.

According to Folha, Machado’s whereabouts has been unknown since last week.

The new leak comes as interim President Michel Temer has announced plans to ramp up austerity and the privatization of public assets and approved a new fiscal target to lower public expenditures.

It also comes as a Senate committee is set to decide on Wednesday the schedule for the suspended president’s impeachment trial.

Rousseff was suspended from office for 180 days on May 12 through a Senate vote to make her stand trial over allegations of budget manipulations. Interim President Michel Temer will be installed in Brazil’s highest office until 2018 if the impeachment is ultimately approved.

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