September 5, 2007 / 6:02 PM / 11 years ago

Brazil Congress panel votes to oust Senate leader

BRASILIA, Sept 5 (Reuters) - A Brazilian congressional ethics committee voted on Wednesday to oust Senate head Renan Calheiros over accusations of graft in the latest scandal to hit President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s coalition.

A key ally of Lula, Calheiros is accused of having personal expenses paid by a construction firm in exchange for political favors. The senator, who denies the accusations, still faces a final vote on the Senate floor next week.

Calheiros, one of the most influential politicians in Brasilia, is a member of centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB. The party is the largest in Congress and wields significant clout in the 11-member governing coalition.

Lula has been haunted by a series of corruption scandals involving leading government figures for the past three years despite pledges when he first came to power in 2003 to clean up the notoriously murky world of Brazilian politics.

His energy minister resigned in May over accusations that he took a kickback for government contracts, and 40 former government allies face trial on charges of running an illicit fund-raising scheme to finance election campaigns and bribe legislators.

Lula, who has denied any knowledge of the corruption schemes, remains immensely popular even as several of his closest allies have been disgraced. He has repeatedly said that his government has done more than previous administrations to combat corruption.

Reporting by Raymond Colitt

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