April 17, 2018 / 9:34 PM / 5 days ago

Brazil Senator Neves to stand trial for corruption, court rules

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that Senator Aecio Neves should stand trial on corruption and obstruction of justice charges, a fresh blow to the one-time presidential candidate and former centrist party leader.

Brazilian Senator Aecio Neves reacts during a session of the Federal Senate in Brasilia, Brazil October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

A five-member panel of the court unanimously ruled to put Neves on trial over accusations by prosecutors that he took a 2 million reais ($587,000) cash payment from Joesley Batista, the former chairman and chief executive of the world’s largest meatpacker, JBS SA.

Batista is in jail, charged last year with obstructing justice and insider trading.

Neves, 58, who separately from the pending trial faces eight other investigations for corruption, was once a promising scion of a traditional political clan. His grandfather was Tancredo Neves, the first president elected after the 1970s-80s military dictatorship, who fell ill and died just hours before his inauguration in 1985.

Batista secretly taped Neves asking for money to defend himself from corruption accusations, a conversation that was turned in by the meat magnate as part of a plea bargain deal.

Brazilian Senator Aecio Neves talks with journalists after a meeting with members of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) to decide if they will vote to pass the pension reform bill in the lower house in Brasilia, Brazil December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Police later video taped a director of J&F Investimentos SA, a holding company owned by the Batista family, handing cash to a cousin of Neves, his campaign treasurer in the 2014 presidential race that he narrowly lost.

Neves said Batista and prosecutors had set him up as part of the plea bargain. His lawyer argued that the evidence used against his client was illegal.

Under Brazilian law, federal lawmakers, members of the executive branch and thousands of other officials can only be tried by the Supreme Court.

Previously leader of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), the scandal cost Neves his position and has hurt the party’s standing as it heads into the 2018 election.

Its candidate, former Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin, is far behind in early opinion polls, with about 6 percent of those asked saying they would vote for him.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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