Brazil's Temer taps political ally for top court amid graft probe

Brazil's Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes leaves the Justice Palace in Brasilia, Brazil February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s President Michel Temer nominated Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes as his nominee to the Supreme Court on Monday, seeking to place a close political ally on the tribunal as it rules on a graft scandal threatening his government.

Temer, whose center-right government is seeking to push through spending cuts and pro-business reforms to pull Brazil out of a recession, had faced calls to appoint a politically independent jurist to the 11-member chamber.

The tribunal is due to decide the fate of scores of senior politicians, including some of Temer’s closest aides, who are under investigation for alleged involvement in the Latin American country’s biggest-ever corruption case.

Moraes, who is closely allied to the PSDB party that supports Temer’s government, would replace justice Teori Zavascki, who was killed in a plane crash last month.

“The solid academic credentials of Doctor Alexandre de Moraes qualify him for the post of Supreme Court justice,” government spokesman Alexandre Parola said in a brief statement.

Moraes’ nomination will require ratification by the government-controlled Senate.

Zavascki had been the Supreme Court justice in charge of Brazil’s biggest-ever anti-corruption investigation, code-named Operation Car Wash. The court picked its newest member last week to take over the probe.

Moraes had been an early frontrunner to take the empty seat on the tribunal but his chances appeared to fade after Temer said he would appoint someone with a similar profile to Zavascki, a discrete technical expert averse to media appearances.

A photo taken by Reuters had earlier shown Moraes confirming his nomination in a cellphone text conversation.

Reporting by Adriano Machado, Lisandra Paraguassu and Alonso Soto; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Alan Crosby