Brazil senator to stand trial on graft, obstruction charges
SAO PAULO (AP) — Justices on Brazil’s Supreme Court decided Tuesday that a powerful senator who narrowly lost in the last presidential election will stand trial on corruption and obstruction of justice charges.
The ruling against Sen. Aecio Neves was a major step for Brazil’s corruption investigations and will be cheered by many on the left who feel conservative politicians have too often been given a pass.
Neves is a key ally of conservative President Michel Temer and a powerful operator in Congress. He was the presidential candidate for the center-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party in 2014, losing to Dilma Rouseff of the leftist Workers’ Party. Rouseff was later removed from office by Congress for allegedly violating financial rules and was replaced by Temer.
Prosecutors accuse Neves of soliciting a bribe of more than $580,000 from meatpacking magnate Joesley Batista in exchange for political favors. Neves is also accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to hinder Brazil’s sprawling “Operation Car Wash” investigation into corruption. He has denied the charges.
All five justices on the court’s so-called first panel voted to accept the corruption accusation against Neves, while four accepted the obstruction charge. A majority is sufficient to move forward, and Neves will stand trial on both charges. Charges against accomplices in the alleged bribery were also accepted.
Before the justices voted, prosecutor Carlos Alberto Carvalho de Vilhena told the court there was “ample probative material” against Neves and the others, according to the Supreme Court’s Twitter feed.
At the center of the prosecution’s case is a conversation that Batista recorded in which he and Neves discussed the exchange of money. Investigators later filmed the handover of cash.
The senator contends the money was a loan from Batista, the former chairman of meatpacker JBS, and says he did not perform any service in exchange for it.
Shortly after Tuesday’s decision, Neves told journalists that he received the news “with absolute calm,” Brazilian media reported.
“Now I will have the opportunity that I have not had yet to prove clearly and definitively the absolute correctness of my actions,” he was quoted as saying.
The recording, which was published by media outlets, shocked many Brazilians, who felt Neves had been caught red-handed.
For many, especially on the left, Neves has been a symbol of what they see as lopsided justice. They complain that Neves remains free and in office despite the recording, while former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party has been tried and jailed in another corruption case.
Because Neves is a senator, any case against him had to be accepted and heard by Brazil’s Supreme Court — a fact that generally slows down the legal process because of a backlog of cases at the top court. He is also facing other charges.
Da Silva, who left the presidency in 2010 after two terms, was tried in the normal courts. He is facing other charges — all of which he says were trumped up to prevent him from running for president again in October’s elections.