Brazil scandal wave now threatens trade minister

BRASILIA, (Reuters) – Brazil’s trade and industry  minister faced pressure yesterday to explain his personal  wealth, becoming the latest and one of the most high-profile  members of President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet to be targeted by  the media over alleged ethics breaches.

Six members of Rousseff’s cabinet have quit over corruption  allegations since she took office in January – the latest was  her labor minister who stepped down on Sunday.

Fernando Pimentel

Her approval ratings have so far remained buoyant, however,  as she benefits from a perception that she is being tough on  graft and has dealt firmly with errant ministers, who have  mostly been members of other parties in her unruly coalition.  Others have been holdovers from the administration of  Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

A serious scandal involving Trade and Industry Minister  Fernando Pimentel, a member of the president’s own Workers’  Party, could be far more damaging for Rousseff.

A close confidant and long-time personal friend of  Rousseff, Pimentel is the most influential minister to face an  ethics storm since her chief of staff Antonio Palocci was  forced out of his post in June.

Unlike some of the recent casualties in less important  ministries, Pimentel is a crucial player in Rousseff’s economic  team, which is scrambling to revive growth that stalled in the  third quarter as Brazil felt the effects of Europe’s debt  crisis.

“This is the ultimate test of Rousseff’s house cleaning,”  said David Fleischer, a political science professor at the  University of Brasilia.

“The others have been from other parties and holdovers from  Lula, but Pimentel is her own pick. This is a different game  and it could be a big blow for her if Pimentel leaves.”

Leading newspapers have reported that Pimentel earned more  than $1.1 million in consultancy fees over two years after he  stepped down as mayor of the city of Belo Horizonte and before  joining Rousseff’s government in January. Pimentel has denied  any wrongdoing but acknowledged that Rousseff has asked him for  explanations.

Newspaper O Globo reported that his consulting firm, P-21  Consultoria, was linked to a current aide to the Belo Horizonte  mayor. Other newspapers have reported that his firm worked with  a construction company that later was awarded a contract with  the Belo Horizonte municipality.

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