By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s top electoral court on Friday was poised to toss out a case alleging that President Michel Temer used illegal campaign funding in 2014, giving the beleaguered leader some breathing room even as he faces a separate corruption investigation.
One justice on Brazil’s seven-member Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) voted to annul the election victory of former president Dilma Rousseff and her then vice-president Temer.
But four justices signaled they will vote to acquit them, which would keep Temer in office.
Even if acquitted, Temer is likely to soon face separate charges for corruption and obstruction of justice in a case involving allegations of hush money paid to a potential witness in a massive graft scandal. The Supreme Court also opened an investigation into the president late last month.
Temer, a third of his Cabinet and dozens of powerful congressmen are under investigation for corruption, jeopardizing the prospects of the congressional passage of the government’s economic austerity package.
The measures, aimed at chopping the gaping budget deficit, are seen as critical to shore up investor confidence in Brazil.
Temer took office as president a year ago following the impeachment of Rousseff for breaking budget laws, which she and her supporters say was a soft coup orchestrated by Temer and his allies in an effort to thwart the corruption investigations.
The TSE voted 4-3 on Thursday to not allow plea-bargain testimony from 77 executives at builder Odebrecht [ODBES.UL] to be used as evidence in the election case. That testimony includes accusations that the company funneled millions of illegal funding to the 2014 Rousseff-Temer ticket.
The exclusion of that evidence strengthened Temer’s line of argument, and analysts think that was a strong signal that the court will rule in his favor and maintain the 2014 election result.
The head of the electoral court, Gilmar Mendes, said that each of the remaining justices would have about 20 minutes on Friday to lay out their reasoning for their votes in the trial, which is being broadcast live on television.
If the court sticks to that plan, a final verdict is expected by the afternoon.
The separate investigation by prosecutors of Temer includes a secret recording of a conversation with an executive of meatpacker JBS SA. In it, the president appears to condone paying bribes to an imprisoned former lawmaker to keep him from turning state’s witness and providing potentially devastating testimony about graft.
Temer has denied any wrongdoing. But a one-time top aide to the leader, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, was caught on a police video released last month picking up a bag with 500,000 reais ($152,000) in cash from a JBS executive.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by W Simon)