BRASILIA (Reuters) - A Brazilian congressional report recommended on Tuesday that President Michel Temer should not face trial for obstruction of justice and membership in a criminal organization, arguing that the charges against him were unfounded.
The report by Congressman Bonifacio de Andrada, a Temer ally, also recommended shelving charges against two of his cabinet ministers stemming from a corruption case involving bribes paid by meatpacker JBS SA.
The constitutional and legal affairs committee in Brazil’s Congress was expected to approve the report next week. The full lower house, which has the power to decide whether a president should be put on trial by the Supreme Court, will likely close the case a week later.
That victory for Temer would all but ensure that Brazil’s most unpopular modern day president will survive the crisis and serve out his term through the end of 2018. But fighting off the charges has seriously delayed and could derail the president’s efforts to balance Brazil’s government accounts.
Temer took office last year after the impeachment of his leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff. He vowed to clean up the government in the midst of Brazil’s worst corruption scandal.
Instead he was accused of taking bribes and condoning the payment of hush money to a jailed politician in plea bargain testimony by Joesley Batista, an owner of JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker.
Temer has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers argued that the case against him was flawed because it was based on one man’s word and an inconclusive recording that Batista secretly made of a conversation with the president.
Andrada said the charges were based on “bogus” plea bargain statements that do not warrant criminal prosecution.
“There is no evidence of a criminal organization, but rather political activities that are being treated as criminal acts,” he said in his report that he read out to the committee.
Temer aides said they were confident the chamber would shelve the charges by a bigger margin than its rejection of an earlier corruption charge on August 2 by 263-227 votes, when it needed only 172 votes to throw the case out.
A survey by Brasilia-based consultancy Arko Advice published this week showed that support for the government has increased in Congress since August and 71 percent of the 212 lawmakers polled believe the new charges against Temer would be rejected.
Still, it is unclear whether Temer can win approval this year for his plan to overhaul the costly pension system, the key measure to reduce a bulging budget deficit that cost Brazil its investment grade credit rating two years ago.
A senior executive for Moody’s Investors Service said on Tuesday that failure to pass pension reform would make it “easier” to decide on maintaining a negative outlook for Brazil’s sovereign rating early next year.
Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Andrew Hay