From Banker Arrest to Impeachment, Brazil Court in Spotlight

  • Judge on Thursday released billionaire Esteves from prison
  • Supreme court to decide whether to suspend lower house chief

Brazil’s Supreme Court on Thursday started ruling on a series of cases that will help shape the outcome of the country’s largest corruption scandal and President Dilma Rousseff’s struggle to remain in office.

From the arrest of a billionaire banker and a senior ruling party senator to requests to impeach Rousseff and oust the lower house speaker, Brazil’s most prickly and divisive events over the past month ended in the laps of 11 Supreme Court justices.

They made headlines and moved markets Thursday afternoon when one of the judges released from jail former BTG Pactual Chairman Andre Esteves. Delcidio Amaral, the government’s former leader in the Senate who was arrested the same day as the banker, was kept in prison.

Impeachment

The most crucial decision is yet to come: whether a petition that lower house chief Eduardo Cunha accepted this month to oust Rousseff is legal. That will determine whether impeachment proceedings move forward or die, extending or ending months of political uncertainty.

The court must also decide whether the start of impeachment hearings against Rousseff in the Senate will be decided by the lower house or senators. The decision would buy Rousseff time in office, if the court allows the Senate to overrule the lower house’s vote. The president is removed from office to await a final decision as soon as the hearings begin in the Senate. Vice President Michel Temer, who in a letter that leaked to newspapers criticized Rousseff, would take over.

Finally, the justices will decide whether to uphold last week’s creation of a special committee that will advise the lower house how to vote on the matter. Some lawmakers said the selection of committee members was improper because it was conducted via secret ballot rather than publicly. The committee is currently dominated by Rousseff critics and recasting it could tip the balance in her favor.

The justices on Thursday resumed for the second day voting on impeachment procedures.

House Speaker

Brazil’s top prosecutor on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to suspend lower house chief Cunha’s mandate as legislator, alleging he used his position for “personal benefit and illicit acts." As one of Rousseff’s main detractors, his removal could take momentum out of the impeachment process.

The Supreme Court said it will only decide on that request after its recess ends Feb. 1.

Cunha also faces charges before the house ethics committee for allegedly failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. In addition, he’s being investigated for allegedly receiving at least $5 million in a kickback scheme at state-owned oil company Petrobras. He denies any wrongdoing.

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