By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's Supreme Court indicted the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, on Thursday for embezzlement, a ruling that is expected to fan growing tensions between the judiciary and Congress over corruption cases.
The top court voted 8-3 to try the senator charges of misusing public funds in a nine-year-old case involving the payment of child support for a daughter Calheiros had in an extramarital affair.
Calheiros was indicted for billing the Senate for car rentals with false contracts. But the court dismissed charges he had falsified documents, including receipts for cow sales, to mask palimony payments prosecutors said came from an engineering firm.
Renan, a key ally for President Michel Temer's drive to restore fiscal discipline and pull Brazil from recession, faces 11 investigations for corruption, eight of them for what prosecutors describe as kickbacks in the massive graft scandal centered on state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A., known as Petrobras.
A skilled politician, Calheiros has survived accusations that he took an Air Force jet to get hair implants, among other corruption charges.
When he was accused in 2007 of letting a lobbyist pay support for his illegitimate daughter, Calheiros stepped down as Senate boss to save his seat and he re-emerged as a power broker in Brasilia politics some years later.
Calheiros' term as head of the Senate expires in February, long before his case can reach a conclusion, so the fallout for Temer is limited. But it does further tarnish the image of an unpopular government and the scandal-plagued ruling PMDB party.
It will also worsen relations between Congress and the judiciary, which have soured over attempts by lawmakers to curb the authority of prosecutors and judges in a move to shield themselves from corruption charges.
Calheiros on Wednesday failed to rush through the Senate a corruption bill sent up by the lower chamber of Congress that would undermine the authority of prosecutors and establish penalties for judges for abusing their authority.
Prosecutors see the bill as an attempt to intimidate them as they prepare to implicate dozens of politicians in a plea deal with a major contractor involved in the Petrobras scandal.
Elected officials such as Calheiros can only be tried by the Supreme Court. Despite the indictment, he will keep his seat which only a Senate ethics committee can strip from him.
(Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Richard Chang)