BRASILIA Ė Brazilís President Michel Temer has renewed a decree granting Cabinet-level status to a close aide suspected of involvement in a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.
The decision by Temer, published on Thursday in the Official Gazette, slightly modified an earlier, provisional decree handed down in February.
The order renews the Cabinet-level status of Wellington Moreira Franco, chief minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, and ensures he can only be investigated and prosecuted by the Supreme Court, whose processes are typically much slower and more cumbersome that those of lower courts.
The decision comes as the high court and Congress are debating whether to scrap the special legal status enjoyed by serving senior officials and members of Congress, since that protection is widely seen as fostering impunity.
In April, the Supreme Court authorized investigations into eight of Temerís Cabinet ministers, including Moreira Franco, and dozens of lawmakers from several different parties suspected of receiving kickbacks stemming from the Petrobras scheme.
Those probes stem from plea-bargain testimony by 77 employees of Odebrecht, one of several large engineering and construction companies that allegedly paid bribes to corrupt Petrobras officials in exchange for inflated contracts and funneled money to politicians who provided cover for the graft.
Numerous senior company executives, several of whom have entered into plea-bargain arrangements, and a former speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, have already been tried and convicted over their involvement in the scheme.
Separately, the Supreme Court launched an investigation into Temer last month over allegations that he accepted bribes from Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS and also encouraged that company to pay hush money to Cunha.
Those allegations stem from plea-bargain testimony by JBS executives.