Brazil's Congress begins analysis of Temer graft charges

Brasília (AFP) –


Brazil's lower house of Congress began to analyze graft charges against President Michel Temer on Tuesday, a process that analysts believe will see him able to escape trial.

In a first step expected to take several hours, the charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice were being read out to the lower chamber by congressional deputy Mariana Carvalho.

Next, the charges will be debated and voted on by the lower house justice committee, something that could take two to three weeks, a spokesman for the chamber said.

The committee's recommendation would then go to the full house, where 342 of 513 deputies would have to vote against Temer for him to be put on trial in the Supreme Court. Any less and the charges would be thrown out as long as he remains in office.

Temer already defeated a first charge of bribe-taking when the lower house overwhelmingly voted against a trial in August. Analysts say he now has at least a strong majority to combat the new charges.

However, the scandal has weakened Temer's ability to pass tough austerity reforms, particularly a tightening of the country's generous pension system.

It has also made him one of the most hated politicians in the country. A poll earlier this month found just 3.4 percent thought his government is doing a good or very good job.

"Brazilian society is suffering from this, with a president involved in several trials," Carvalho, the deputy tasked with reading out the charges, said.

The latest charges involve Temer's alleged agreement to pay hush money to keep a jailed politician from testifying and his leadership of a group in Congress that took millions of dollars in bribes from companies seeking state contracts.

According to the charges, Temer "acted as leader of a criminal organization" comprising senior officials from his center-right PMDB party. They allegedly took the kickbacks in exchange for contracts at public companies like oil giant Petrobras.