BRASILIA, (Reuters) – Brazil’s Supreme Court yesterday suspended impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff until it rules on the validity of a secret ballot that stacked a congressional committee with opponents seeking to oust the leftist leader.
The ruling provided respite for Rousseff as she struggles to survive splits in her ruling coalition and fend off the effort to unseat her. She is also dealing with a severe recession and a widening corruption investigation at state-run oil company Petrobras that has implicated many of her allies.
Rousseff is not under investigation in the kickback scandal. But her former point man in the Senate, Delcidio Amaral, who is in jail awaiting trial on charges of obstructing the Petrobras probe, has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. That could lead to new disclosures involving her ruling Workers’ Party (PT).
The decision by a Supreme Court judge late on Tuesday stopped the creation of the impeachment committee until the country’s top court rules on Dec. 16 whether the secret ballot was valid.
Justice Luiz Edson Fachin, who was appointed by Rousseff, said the impeachment process had to be suspended to avoid actions that might later be invalidated by the Supreme Court.
The ruling could favor Rousseff by curbing the power of her political foe, lower house Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who called a secret ballot to allow wavering members of Rousseff’s coalition to back a pro-impeachment committee without public record.
Cunha, who himself faces allegations of corruption, launched the impeachment proceedings last week based on an opposition accusation that the president violated budget laws with accounting tricks employed by her government to allow ramped up spending during her re-election campaign last year.
Rousseff, in office since 2011, has denied wrongdoing. She reiterated that on Wednesday at an event in Boa Vista, a northern town near the border with Venezuela where she handed out low-cost houses. “I did nothing wrong. There was no graft,” Rousseff said, adding she was being impeached for spending too much on social programs.
Many Brazilians want to see Rousseff go because they blame her for the worst recession in 25 years, which is being deepened by concern over the country’s political future.
Brazil came one step closer to losing its prized investment-grade credit rating on Wednesday when Moody’s Investors Service said it was studying a possible downgrade because of the deteriorating economy, widening fiscal deficit and increasing risks of political paralysis.
Cunha faces several accusations of taking bribes on Petrobras contracts and stashing millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. He has denied the charges.
The house ethics committee was due to vote on Wednesday on whether to investigate Cunha for lying about Swiss bank accounts, which could cost him his seat, but his backers delayed a decision with an injunction removing the committee’s rapporteur.
ROUSSEFF BASE WEAKENED
In Tuesday’s secret ballot, lawmakers voted 272-199 for a committee controlled by Rousseff’s opponents and pro-impeachment members of Cunha’s centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), the biggest party in her coalition.
The tumultuous session almost collapsed into chaos during an angry debate over the secret vote.