Attorney General Shoots Down Allegations That Rattled Brazil

  • Senator allegedly said president sought favors from judges
  • Opposition said Rousseff should leave office if report is true

Brazil’s attorney general on Thursday flatly denied allegations that Dilma Rousseff tried to interfere with corruption probes, capping a tumultuous day where a news article moved financial markets and renewed talk of ousting the president.

IstoE magazine reported that Delcidio Amaral, the government’s former leader in the Senate who was detained in November, allegedly said as part of a plea bargain offer that Rousseff pushed judges to release allies imprisoned on charges of graft. The stock market and currency rallied on speculation the report could bring down the Rousseff administration and force an end to months of political turmoil.

QuickTake Brazil's High and Lows

Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo denied the magazine’s report that Rousseff nominated a lawyer to the bench and tried to influence judges in order to help defendants in the corruption probe, saying that Amaral provided no proof of his allegations. "He forcefully lied to try and get a plea bargain," Cardozo said.

Authorities released Amaral from jail last month and ordered him under partial house arrest. He was accused of trying to interfere with the two-year probe known as Carwash, where business executives offered kickbacks for contracts at state-run oil company Petrobras. The senator has denied wrongdoing.

Distancing Himself

Through a statement from his lawyer, Amaral sought to distance himself from the IstoE story, which also alleged that former president and Rousseff mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tried to cover up corruption at Petrobras.

"Neither Senator Delcidio nor his defense confirm the content of the report," Amaral and his lawyer, Antonio Augusto Figueiredo Basto, wrote in a statement sent to journalists. Amaral didn’t make any accusations, Figueiredo later said in an interview.

Still, the IstoE report emboldened Rousseff’s adversaries and rekindled calls for her ouster. Since the beginning of her second term last year, Carwash has rocked Brazil’s establishment with the imprisonment of high-profile executives and politicians, adding to discontent with the Rousseff administration over the deepest economic recession in decades. Congress started impeachment proceedings against the president in early December, though they have remain paralyzed ever since.

“Brazil today faces the most serious moment of these allegations," said opposition Senator Aecio Neves, who lost to Rousseff in the 2014 presidential race. "If confirmed, President Dilma Rousseff is no longer in a position to continue governing this country."

Serious Allegations

The head of the Brazilian bar association, Claudio Lamachia, said the allegations -- if true -- are serious. "If proven, these events show a true attack on the democratic rule of law and the republican institutions," he said. The association known as OAB could even present a new impeachment request against Rousseff, it said in a statement.

Without citing the IstoE report, Rousseff’s press office criticized selective leaks of information to the media, saying they are illegal and don’t "contribute to the stability of the country."

Analysts at political consulting firm Eurasia Group played down the impact of Thursday’s events, saying they don’t increase the odds of Rousseff being forced from office beyond their previous estimate of 40 percent.

"Impeaching a president, after all, is very hard," Eurasia analysts wrote, pointing out that Rousseff only needs support from 172 of 513 lawmakers to stay in office. "Today’s events clearly are a setback, but it is a bit early to conclude it is sufficient to lead to a mass defection in her centrist base of support."

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