BRASILIA – An indictment of President Michel Temer on corruption charges was read aloud Thursday in the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, the body that will decide whether the head of state must face a trial.
Pro-government parties control both chambers, so it was no surprise that most members chose to boycott the reading of the indictment, which roughly coincided with a visit to the presidential palace by the secretary of the lower house to formally notify Temer of the start of the process.
The first step involves the 66-member Constitution and Justice Committee holding hearings and eventually submitting an evaluation of the merits of the accusation.
Whatever the panel’s findings, the matter will go to a vote in the full house, where a two-thirds majority, 342, will be required to allow the case against Temer to proceed.
If Congress authorizes the prosecution, Temer will be suspended for six months and house speaker Rodrigo Maia will be named interim president.
In the event Temer were convicted, Congress would choose a successor to serve out the balance of the presidential term that ends Jan. 1, 2019.
The chair of the Constitution and Justice Committee, Rodrigo Pacheco, plans to hold the first hearing next Tuesday to choose one of the panel to present the case against the president.
While Temer’s PMDB forms the majority on the commission, Pacheco can select a member of any party to fill the role and he has said that he intends to name a lawmaker who is at least “relatively independent.”
The 74-year-old Temer, who denies any wrongdoing, is the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be charged with a criminal offense.
Prosecutors accuse Temer of encouraging the payment of hush money to a political ally already convicted of graft in connection with a $2 billion scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Those charges originated with brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, owners of JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company.
As part of a plea deal, the JBS owners handed prosecutors a secretly taped audio recording in which Temer appeared to say that bribes needed to continue to flow to former lower-house speaker Eduardo Cunha.
The Batista brothers also said that they had been paying off Temer and his political allies since 2010.
Cunha spearheaded the effort that led last year to the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff via impeachment.
Temer, who served as Rousseff’s vice president from 2011 to 2016, turned against his boss, supported the impeachment process and eventually succeeded her in office.