Brazil's Rousseff to be investigated for alleged funds misuse

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. PHOTO: AFP

BRASÍLIA (AFP) - President Dilma Rousseff's campaign will be investigated for alleged use of funds skimmed from the vast Petrobras corruption scheme, officials said Wednesday, in a twist that could potentially end her term early.

The opposition Social Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB) has filed five complaints, including one now accepted by a federal electoral body.

Opposition lawmakers - whose candidate lost in a tight race against Rousseff in 2014 - say Rousseff of the Workers Party and runningmate Michel Temer of the centrist PMDB funded their campaign with donations from companies involved in the corruption scheme that has rocked Brazil.

The electoral body 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.

The complaint specifically alleges that Rousseff and Temer engaged in "abuse of economic power, and of fraud, by funding campaign expenses... with donations from Petrobras contractor companies as part of the bribes distribution."

It is the first time the electoral body has opened such proceedings against a sitting president, according to the Superior Electoral Court.

In addition, Rousseff is alleged to have used public financial group resources to fund social programmes for the poor, which is illegal in Brazil.

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.

Rousseff chaired Petrobras during the main period of the kickback and political payoff scandal that cost the company more than US$2 billion (S$2.85 billion) in 2014.

Now, Brazil's embattled first woman president has seen her approval rating slide to around 10 per cent, with the economy contracting and many critics calling for her impeachment.