BRASILIA – Brazilian President Michel Temer survived a new vote in the lower house of Congress on Wednesday on whether he should be tried in the Supreme Court for alleged obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy.
The bid to force a trial ended once 157 votes had been cast in favor of shelving the charges, since one abstention and 14 absences made it impossible for Temer’s opponents to reach the necessary two-thirds majority.
That threshold had been widely considered too high long before the vote because of Temer’s strong support in the Chamber of Deputies.
The obstruction and conspiracy charges were filed by the Attorney General’s Office and based on plea-bargain testimony by the now-jailed owners of Sao Paulo-based meatpacking giant JBS, Joesley and Wesley Batista.
Among the evidence the Batistas presented was a secretly recorded audio tape in which Temer appeared to encourage the continued payment of hush money to an ex-speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who earlier this year was convicted of graft and sentenced to a more than 15-year prison term.
Cunha is one of the most prominent political figures to be ensnared in a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated contracts scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.
In August, the lower house voted not to put Temer on trial for allegedly accepting millions of dollars in bribes from JBS dating back to 2010.
In a lower-house session Wednesday, Temer’s lead defense attorney, Eduardo Carnelos, said the charges were solely aimed at “attacking an honest president” with an “impeccable” record in public life.
He recalled that JBS’ owners had lost their immunity from prosecution and are now jailed due to plea-deal violations that included concealing information from prosecutors and insider trading.
Temer, who was hospitalized on Wednesday for a “urological obstruction,” according to the government, is the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be charged with a criminal offense.
Had 342 of the lower house’s 513 lawmakers approved the charges, Temer would have been suspended from office for 180 days and put on trial before the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over cases involving sitting politicians.
The president then could have been permanently removed from office if convicted by the high court.
Temer enjoys strong support in the lower house despite dismally low approval ratings of between 3.5 percent and 5 percent.
He came to power after his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was removed from office via impeachment for violating budget laws, a process spearheaded by Cunha.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people – many of them from the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) – held a protest in Sao Paulo to bring attention to the lack of affordable housing, demand Temer’s ouster and blast his efforts to remain in power.
“It was the same operation as months ago with the first (bribery) charges, scandalous vote-buying in Congress,” MTST Coordinator Guilherme Boulos told EFE, referring to Temer’s pledges of pork-barrel spending to ensure lawmakers’ support.