Brazil court to probe president on misuse of funds in campaign

BRASILIA • Brazil's top electoral authority has ruled there are grounds to investigate irregularities in President Dilma Rousseff's re-election campaign last year.

The TSE (Superior Electoral Court) in a 5-2 vote overturned an earlier ruling by Judge Maria Thereza de Assis Moura, who in February had said the evidence was insufficient to move forward.

It is seeking to determine whether President Rousseff and Vice-President Michel Temer abused their power while in office to run the campaign and whether illegal money was used as funding.

The TSE investigation could lead to the invalidation of Ms Rousseff's slim victory at the polls a year ago, though the judicial case is expected to last for months if not years and can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Tuesday's decision will add fuel to opposition attempts to impeach Ms Rousseff in Congress. The president's popularity has sunk to single digits due to a corruption scandal involving state-run oil company Petrobras and a severe economic recession, and former coalition allies have joined opposition calls for her impeachment.

TSE officials said the court will investigate Ms Rousseff's election campaign to see if it was funded by illegal money, including donations originating from the kickback scandal that has engulfed Petrobras.

Ms Rousseff chaired Petrobras during the main period of the kickback and political payoff scandal that cost the company more than US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) in 2014.

Some of Brazil's most senior government officials and private sector executives, as well as a growing list of political figures, are among the dozens already tainted by the growing scandal.

The TSE investigation was requested by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB), whose leader, Mr Aecio Neves, narrowly lost to Ms Rousseff last October.

If the court were to uncover illegal funds in her campaign or other irregularities, it could invalidate Ms Rousseff's election and that of her running mate, leading to fresh elections that would favour Mr Neves. Analysts say that is an unlikely scenario.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'Brazil court to probe president on misuse of funds in campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe