BRASILIA – A trial in the Brazilian capital that could lead to the eventual ouster of President Michel Temer has become bogged down amid questions over the validity of plea-bargain confessions made by dozens of former executives of engineering giant Odebrecht.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which is expected to rule on whether the successful 2014 re-election campaign of then-incumbent President Dilma Rousseff and her vice president, Temer, was marred by illegal financing, devoted nearly all of Wednesday’s session to analyzing the validity of the Odebrecht testimony.
Defense attorneys for Temer and Rousseff argued that the evidence supplied by Odebrecht should be thrown out because it was unsubstantiated and introduced nearly two years after the first illegal financing allegations were presented to the TSE.
In plea-bargain testimony, the former Odebrecht executives confessed that the group had contributed at least 150 million reais ($45 million at the current exchange rate) to the Rousseff-Temer ticket.
That company’s former chief executive officer, Marcelo Odebrecht, said a portion of those funds was undeclared and constituted kickbacks from a $2 billion corruption scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Senior executives of major companies and prominent politicians have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms over the scheme, in which Odebrecht and other leading firms were found to have bribed Petrobras executives in exchange for inflated contracts and diverted some of the loot to politicos and political parties.
Further arguments on the validity of Odebrecht testimony will continue on Thursday and could drag on into the weekend.
Temer, who turned against Rousseff and supported an impeachment process that led to her ouster for violating budget laws, became president last year.
His own term could now be cut short if the TSE rules that the illegal campaign financing occurred, although the president, who denies wrongdoing, could appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.
Separately, the Supreme Court launched an investigation last month into the president over allegations he accepted bribes from Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS and also encouraged that company to pay hush money to a former top lawmaker who was convicted earlier this year in connection with the Petrobras scheme and sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.
That investigation stems from plea-bargain testimony by JBS executives, including an audio recording in which Temer appears to tell that company’s former chairman, Joesley Batista, that payments to an erstwhile speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress who was instrumental in Rousseff’s impeachment process, Eduardo Cunha, needed to continue to prevent him from turning state’s evidence.