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Report recommends impeachment of Brazil president proceed


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – The special investigator for a congressional commission recommended Wednesday that the impeachment process against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff move forward, saying there is evidence she violated fiscal laws.

Rousseff is accused of manipulating budget accounts to allow her administration to boost spending to shore up votes ahead of her 2014 re-election campaign. She has vehemently denied committing any crime and says prior presidents made use of similar accounting techniques. She calls the impeachment effort an attempted coup.

The investigator for a lower house commission weighing her impeachment said there were grounds to advance with proceedings against Rousseff, who besides impeachment is battling low poll numbers, a shrinking economy and an outbreak of the Zika virus, all as the country gears up to host the Olympic Games in August.

“The facts show serious indications of unconstitutionality, illegality and fiscal irresponsibility,” Jovair Arantes said in a nearly 130-page report.

Arantes’ conclusion had been widely anticipated as he is a close ally of house Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a nemesis of Rousseff who has been the driving force behind the impeachment process.

The commission is scheduled to vote on whether to adopt his recommendation early next week, but even if the panel voted against it, the impeachment process would be subject to a vote in the entire lower House of Deputies. That vote is expected later this month. If two-thirds of the 513 legislators vote for impeachment, the proceedings move forward with a trial in the Senate.

Arantes defended his recommendation at a rowdy committee session.

“Some will call me a hero and others a villain or a putchist. These labels don’t worry me,” Arantes wrote. “My main worry was to carry out an impartial job, with an easy conscience.”

Despite the recommendation, Rousseff’s chances of surviving looked slightly better Wednesday after the Progressive Party announced it would remain in Rousseff’s governing coalition at least through the vote in the lower house.

The development came following last week’s announcement that the country’s biggest party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, would leave the coalition. That was a major blow but it didn’t spark the pullout of other, smaller parties that many political observers had expected.

Analysts say securing the support of those parties will be key to Rousseff’s bid to fend off impeachment.

On Tuesday, Rousseff said she would delay announcing any Cabinet reshuffle until after the lower house votes, prompting some critics to accuse her of using the posts as bargaining chips to secure parties’ votes against impeachment.

Impeachment committee member Paulo Maluf, a Progressive Party legislator from Sao Paulo, told the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that “the government is involved in a process of buying and selling that is detestable.”

Maluf himself has been convicted of money laundering in France and cannot leave Brazil because he is on an Interpol wanted list. And more than half of the other members of the impeachment commission face corruption or other charges.

Additionally, the three top officials in line to succeed Rousseff if she is impeached have been implicated in a corruption scheme.

Vice President Michel Temer, the first in line to succeed Rousseff, said he was “extremely shocked” by a decision by a Supreme Court justice requiring the opening of impeachment proceedings against him.

“It hurt me professionally and morally,” Temer was quoted as saying by G1, the internet portal of the Globo television network.

Cunha, the house speaker, dismissed Tuesday’s decision on Temer as “absurd” and said he would appeal it to the full court. But a report in Folha de S. Paulo on Wednesday suggested the speaker would comply with Justice Marco Aurelio Mello’s decision and had taken steps to opening impeachment proceedings against Temer.

Cunha himself is facing money-laundering charges in connection with the sprawling investigation into bribery to win contracts at the state-run oil giant Petrobras and he could be stripped of his house seat over allegations he lied to a congressional committee.