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Brazil’s capital on edge ahead of corruption probes

Employees of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht have confessed to systemic bribery of politicians in exchange for inflated contracts with state oil company Petrobras © AFP/File / NELSON ALMEIDA

Brasília, Brazil, Mar 12 – Brazil’s capital is on edge ahead of the expected opening of scores of corruption cases this week against sitting and former politicians in a crisis that could threaten President Michel Temer’s rule.

Within days, Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot is expected to request authority for a slew of probes against members of the government and Congress.

It’s the latest chapter of a three-year embezzlement and bribery scandal shaking Latin America’s biggest economy.

Last week “was the calm before the political crisis which is coming and which will last for months,” said political analyst Alberto Almeida. “It’s a terrible time for the credibility of the political class.”

Speculation has been growing for months over who will be on Janot’s list. On Saturday, G1 news site reported that Janot would seek about 80 investigations and that the number of politicians involved may reach 200.

The request to the Supreme Court, which oversees all judicial matters concerning sitting politicians, will be based on a deluge of testimony in plea bargains with 77 former executives of the giant Odebrecht construction company.

Odebrecht employees have confessed to systemic bribery of politicians in exchange for inflated contracts with state oil company Petrobras and favorable legislation. The money went either directly into politicians’ pockets or into party campaign slush funds.

It is not clear whether Temer, who has already lost a string of ministers to the ever-expanding corruption crisis, will be subjected to a probe himself.

He is also involved in a separate case at the Supreme Electoral Court which is looking into whether his 2014 election as vice president on the ticket with then president Dilma Rousseff benefited from campaign slush funds.

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The court could, in theory, annul the election’s result, creating yet another wave of instability for Brazil.

– Reforms in danger –

At the very least this week, Temer’s government looks certain to take a new battering just when it’s trying to push through austerity reforms.

Brazil has been through two straight years of recession and Temer, who became president last year after Rousseff was impeached, says his main goal is to put the economy back on track.

He has got Congress to pass a 20 year spending freeze and is now asking for pension reform and other painful measures.

But the corruption scandal also means that Congress — where many members are expected to be probed by Janot — is sometimes more interested in survival than legislation.

For example, Congress has spent much of its energy in recent weeks on trying to craft amnesties to cover anyone involved in taking unregistered campaign donations, despite fierce condemnation from anti-corruption judges and prosecutors.

“Every time there’s a new phase (of the probe), Congress stops,” said a source in the Chamber of Deputies, asking not to be identified.

Almeida said that unlike previous Brazilian political crises, this one is turning into open war between the judiciary and the political world. “These crises used to be resolved within the political world…, but that’s not possible any more.”

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