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Brazil's leftist opposition seek Temer probe, impeachment

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA Leftist opponents of Brazil’s President Michel Temer sought on Monday to have him investigated and impeached for his alleged role in pressuring a former culture minister to approve a property development.

While the impeachment bid is not expected to gain sufficient backing, Brazil’s public prosecutor is already studying whether to investigate the charge by the former minister, Marcelo Calero, that Temer had sided with another Cabinet member who lobbied him to override historic preservation rules for a luxury apartment building in Salvador, Brazil’s former colonial capital.

The latest corruption scandal in Temer’s government has added to political uncertainty delaying the recovery of Latin America’s largest economy from its worst recession since the 1930s.

A dozen senators from the Workers Party and its Communist ally filed a request with the public prosecutor’s office to investigate Temer for allegedly pressing Calero in favour of the other minister, who has a stake in the planned building.

Vieira Lima, who held the key post of minister in charge of relations with Congress, was forced to resign on Friday. He was the fourth Cabinet member Temer has lost due to corruption allegations since replacing impeached leftist Dilma Rousseff earlier this year and vowing to clean up government.

Adding to the risks for Temer, the public prosecutor’s office (PGR) on Monday requested recordings that Calero told local media he had made on his iPhone of a conversation with the president.

“The PGR asked for the recordings because we need all the evidence available to decide whether an investigation is warranted,” a spokeswoman for the prosecutor told Reuters.

In Congress, the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) filed a request to open impeachment proceedings against Temer for committing an “administrative crime” by getting involved in a matter related to the private interests of Vieira Lima.

“The president evidently sponsored a private interest from his public office,” the PSOL document said.

The new scandal is not expected to hinder passage of Temer’s proposal for a 20-year ceiling on federal spending, the centrepiece of his plan to restore fiscal discipline and bring the budget deficit under control. The bill has passed the lower chamber and faces the first of two votes in the Senate on Tuesday.

“The opposition does not have the force to obstruct this important vote,” said Andre Cesar, partner at Hold Legislative Advisors, a Brasilia-based public policy consultancy.

But he said the Workers Party, ousted from power in May, is taking advantage of the scandal to turn public opinion against Temer who faces a tough year in 2017.

“With the recovery at a snail’s pace, this can only fuel discontent,” Cesar said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)