Brazil president on defence as aide falls, cash recovered

RIO DE JANEIRO — Embattled President Michel Temer’s attempt to win back confidence and stay in power was undermined Tuesday as one aide was arrested in a fraud scheme, another aide turned over to police a bag full of cash and shouts of “down with Temer” led a Senate commission to suspend work on a package of the president’s labour reforms.

Tadeu Filippelli, who had an office neighbouring Temer’s in the presidential palace, was arrested in connection with a fraud investigation into renovations of the Brasilia soccer stadium for the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil’s federal police say the construction works were overpriced by more than $260 million.

Hours after the arrest, Temer fired Filippelli.

In the same operation, two former governors of Brazil’s Federal District, which includes capital Brasilia, were also arrested: Jose Roberto Arruda and Agnelo Queiroz.

Filippelli heads the Brasilia branch of Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, was vice-governor of the Federal District under Queiroz and is one of the five special aides to the president.

Four of those aides now have been linked to corruption scandals. Only two remain in their positions.

Brazil’s top court has opened investigations into Temer for alleged obstruction of justice and involvement in passive corruption. He says he’s innocent and rejects calls to resign.

Meanwhile, another Temer aide, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, surrendered a bag filled with part of the $150,000 in alleged hush money meant for former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, federal police said.

Brazil’s top prosecutor said last week that Loures was suspected of serving as the president’s courier in sending funds to Cunha and prosecutors had already released a video showing Loures running out of a Sao Paulo restaurant carrying the bag. In a recorded conversation with an executive of the JBS meatpacking company, he had identified himself as Temer’s middleman.

Temer has denied any wrongdoing and says that an audiotape that appeared to show him endorsing such a bribe was faked.

Despite the wave of bad news for Brazil’s president and growing pressure for him to resign, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said in a meeting with investors in Sao Paulo that the political crisis will not stall the agenda for more austerity measures and unpopular reforms in the pension system and in labour laws.

Asked by journalists whether he could be a candidate for president if Congress has to choose a replacement for Temer, Meirelles only smiled and waved.

At Congress, tensions were high when a Senate commission started discussing Temer’s reform of labour laws, at a very early stage. Allies of the president had just barely won a vote to read the report in favour of the overhaul when opposition lawmakers insisted no discussion should be made during the current political crisis.

Insults and shouts of “down with Temer” forced the head of the commission to adjourn.

A former head of the Senate that is a key member in Temer’s party has also spoken against the embattled president. Sen. Renan Calheiros, facing several corruption allegations, told Radio Gaucha that “the exit that would interest Brazil the most would be an election now, through Congress.”

Many Brazilians are pressuring for direct general elections for president, but that would require a constitutional amendment.

Mauricio Savarese, The Associated Press

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