Justice suspends president of Brazil's Senate from duties

AP News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2016 6:04 PM
Justice suspends president of Brazil's Senate from duties

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Supreme Court justice suspended the president of Brazil's Senate from his duties as the body's leader Monday, hitting another key ally of President Michel Temer.

Sen. Renan Calheiros keeps his Senate seat and can appeal the order by justice Marco Aurelio Mello, but he has already been replaced as Senate president by his deputy, Sen. Jorge Viana, a member of the opposition.

Mello ruled that since Calheiros had not yet stood trial on a corruption charge, he could not remain Senate president and be in line for Brazil's presidency. Last week, the full Supreme Court voted that Calheiros would stand trial on charges that he received bribes from a construction company, Mendes Junior.

The accusation against Calheiros came out in 2007, when he was also president of the Senate. At the time he denied any wrongdoing, but was forced to resign.

The full Supreme Court would decide any appeal by Calheiros of Mello's order. In a statement, Calheiros said he would not comment until he read all of the justice's decision.

Calheiros, whose current term as Senate president was to end in February, had been expected this month to get through Congress a series of austerity measures planned by Temer.

Temer, who assumed Brazil's presidency in May after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached for breaking fiscal laws, now will have to negotiate with Viana, who is an ally of Rousseff.

Temer has already lost six Cabinet ministers in his six months as president, most over corruption allegations. He also lost another legislative ally when the speaker of the House of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, was stripped of his seat and later imprisoned for corruption charges.

In addition to the trial already ordered, Calheiros could face trial on 11 other corruption charges before the Supreme Court, including many in the investigation of a mammoth kickback scheme at state-run oil giant Petrobras. In Brazil, legislators and high government officials can only be tried by the high court.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets to protest against Calheiros and his allies for trying to dismantle an anti-corruption bill that is widely popular. The lawmakers began considering the changes while Brazil mourned the deaths of 71 people in the crash of a plane carrying members of the soccer club Chapecoense.