Sunday 18 February 2018

Brazilian minister quits in case that implicates president Michel Temer

Michel Temer took power in May after Dilma Rousseff was removed from office (AP)
Michel Temer took power in May after Dilma Rousseff was removed from office (AP)

A Brazilian minister has resigned amid allegations that he enlisted President Michel Temer's help to pressure a fellow cabinet member to approve a luxury apartment development project in a preservation zone.

The announcement feeds a growing scandal over alleged misuse of power that threatens Mr Temer's presidency only six months after he replaced a predecessor ousted from office by Congress - and at a time when corruption investigations have tarred many senior politicians.

At least one opposition party said it will submit a motion to impeach the new president.

Mr Temer, who is deeply unpopular with many Brazilians, has been struggling to push through an ambitious austerity agenda he says will pull Latin America's largest economy out of its worst recession in decades.

Since May, his administration has lurched from one scandal to the next, but until now none had directly implicated the president.

Mr Temer's administration "just turned six months and it already looks old", said Fabio Zanini, political editor of the daily newspaper Folha de S Paulo. "The strategy to win popular legitimacy with an economic recovery and political stability is quickly sinking for a president who was not supported by the popular vote."

The latest crisis started when former culture minister Marcelo Calero told federal police that Mr Temer's legislative affairs minister, Geddel Vieira Lima, pressured him to allow construction of a luxury building in a historic preservation area in the city of Salvador. Mr Lima had bought a unit in the planned development.

Mr Calero, who resigned last week, testified that Mr Temer suggested he use a method to avoid the normal oversight process for such a building.

He said Mr Temer invited him to the presidential palace last week to suggest "a way out", indicating that the building restrictions had created "operational difficulties" in his administration, according to Mr Calero's evidence.

"Politics has these things, that kind of pressure," Mr Temer said, according to Mr Calero.

The president's spokesman said he simply intervened to arbitrate a dispute between cabinet members.

In his resignation letter, Mr Lima said the accusations of wrongdoing were merely "interpretations", and he was stepping down because he and his family were suffering due to the accusations.

Mr Lima is the sixth minister in the new government to resign amid allegations of corruption.

Several Brazilian news outlets reported that Mr Calero made recordings of conversations with Mr Temer, Mr Lima and presidential chief-of-staff Eliseu Padilha.

"I never acted in bad faith or in deceitful ways," Mr Calero said on his Facebook page. "I fulfilled my duties as a Brazilian citizen not to comply with illegalities and acts with respect to the institutions."

The left-leaning Socialist and Liberty Party pledged that on Monday it would submit a measure to Congress to impeach Mr Temer, but to move forward, it would have to be accepted by Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies and a Temer ally.

Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, said the scandal makes Mr Temer's future unpredictable.

"The damage can grow," he said. "There will be speculation about the future and that will also delay attempts to pass reforms."

The political scene was embittered by the impeachment trial and removal of former president Dilma Rousseff, who was found guilty by the opposition-led Senate of breaking budgetary laws. Mr Temer was vice president and replaced her, making him a target for Rousseff allies who called her removal a legislative coup.

The new president is pushing to pass a major overhaul of the pension system and to impose a spending cap on government spending. The economy is expected to contract by 3% this year after a similarly poor 2015.


Press Association

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