BRASILIA – The executive committee of the Brazilian Senate announced on Tuesday that it does not recognize a Supreme Court injunction suspending the indicted Renan Calheiros as head of the chamber.
On Monday, Supreme Court Judge Marco Aurelio Mello suspended Calheiros based on a still-pending decision finding that bars a criminal defendant from occupying a post in the line of presidential succession. As Brazil is currently without a vice president, the Senate leader is second behind the speaker of the lower house.
The Senate executive committee said Calheiros will continue to act as head of the body until the entire Supreme Court rules on the matter.
But the gesture of defiance came just hours after Senate counsel Alberto Cascais submitted a brief appealing the injunction issued by Mello.
Senators, including some from Calheiros’ own PMDB party, pointed out the inconsistency of simultaneously appealing a court decision and refusing to recognize its validity.
Cascais said in his brief that Mello’s action constituted judicial “interference” with the legislature.
The Supreme Court voted 8-2 last Thursday to allow prosecutors to proceed against Calheiros. Under Brazilian law, only the nation’s highest court can hear cases against sitting lawmakers and senior officials.
The Senate chief is accused of using his influence to benefit construction company Mendes Junior in exchange for the firm’s agreeing to support Calheiros’ out-of-wedlock daughter by journalist Monica Veloso.
The situation became public in 2007 and Calheiros was forced to give up his post as Senate leader, but not his seat, and he was re-elected leader in 2013.
Calheiros is also among dozens of Brazilian politicians under investigation in connection with the $2 billion corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.
President Michel Temer has been counting on his PMDB colleague and close ally Calheiros to secure Senate approval for controversial austerity measures.
If the suspension is upheld, Calheiros would be replaced as Senate leader by Sen. Jorge Viana, a member of the center-left Workers Party (PT) that governed Brazil from January 2003 until Aug. 31 of this year, when elected President Dilma Rousseff was ousted by Congress for alleged budget irregularities.
The government fears that if Viana takes charges of the Senate, he will postpone a vote on Temer’s proposal for a constitutional amendment to cap public spending for the next 20 years, part of an aggressive right-wing agenda the new president has pursued since taking office.
The lower house has already approved the amendment, which the PT and other critics say would have the effect of freezing public investment in areas such as education and health care.
The Supreme Court will give priority to resolving whether Calheiros can remain as Senate leader, chief justice Carmen Lucia Antunes said Tuesday.