BRASILIA – The Brazilian legislator chosen by his colleagues to report on corruption allegations against President Michel Temer said Monday that the case against the head of state should be allowed to go forward.
Sergio Zveiter, a member of Temer’s PMDB party, told the members of the lower house’s Constitution and Justice Committee that he based his conclusions on a “strict” analysis of the documents submitted by prosecutors.
Allowing the charges to be heard does not signify a certainty of guilt, but rather the start of a judicial process that “will clarify” the conduct of the president, who enjoys “the broadest right to a defense,” the rapporteur said.
The committee will debate Zveiter’s report before the question is submitted to a vote in the full house, where a two-thirds majority – 342 – will be required to allow the case against Temer to proceed.
Parties allied with Temer control the chamber.
If Congress authorizes the prosecution, Temer will be suspended for six months and house speaker Rodrigo Maia will be named interim president.
In the event Temer were convicted, Congress would choose a successor to serve out the balance of the presidential term that ends Jan. 1, 2019.
The 74-year-old Temer, who denies any wrongdoing, is the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be charged with a criminal offense.
Prosecutors accuse Temer of encouraging the payment of hush money to a political ally already convicted of graft in connection with a $2 billion scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Those charges originated with brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, owners of JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company.
As part of a plea deal, the JBS owners handed prosecutors a secretly taped audio recording in which Temer appeared to say that bribes needed to continue to flow to former lower-house speaker Eduardo Cunha.
The Batista brothers also said that they had been paying off Temer and his political allies since 2010.
Cunha spearheaded the effort that led last year to the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff via impeachment.
Temer, who served as Rousseff’s vice president from 2011 to 2016, turned against his boss, supported the impeachment process and eventually succeeded her in office.