Brazil gives the nod to Rousseff's removal

(File, AP)
(File, AP)

Brasilia - A Brazilian Senate committee voted Thursday to recommend the full upper house remove suspended president Dilma Rousseff from office in an impeachment trial, sending the nation's political drama into its end game.

The decision - passed by a vote of 14 to five - is non-binding, but delivers Rousseff yet another setback on the eve of the Olympics opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.

Instead of presiding over the opening of an Olympics once meant to showcase Brazil's growing economic power and political stability, Rousseff now takes another step toward what looks increasingly like her political downfall.

Corruption cases

Rousseff is accused of spending money without congressional approval and taking out unauthorised loans from state banks to make the national budget look better than it really was as she campaigned for re-election in 2014.

She says such manoeuvers were common practice under previous administrations and calls the impeachment procedure a coup in disguise.

Her allies point out that many of the lawmakers accusing her are implicated in corruption cases far more serious than mere accounting shenanigans.

But opponents on the impeachment committee delivered a damning verdict.

"The president will be removed from office for the extremely serious crimes she committed," said Senator Cassio Lima of the opposition PSDB party.

"It was the biggest fiscal fraud in the country's history."

Rousseff is refusing to attend Friday's Olympic ceremony, saying she does not want to play a "secondary role."

Her bitter political enemy Michel Temer, who is serving as interim president, will oversee the opening ceremony. If she is removed from office, he will become the full-fledged president until elections in 2018.

The full Senate will vote on August 9 on whether to proceed with the impeachment trial. A simple majority would suffice and the measure is expected to pass easily.

Then a final and decisive session in the full Senate is scheduled for August 29, a week after the Olympics close, when a two-thirds majority is required to eject Rousseff.

Impeachment committee official Antonio Anastasia said on Tuesday that he fully supports finding Rousseff guilty.

"I vote for the accusation to go ahead," he said in a report to the rest of the committee, calling the case against Rousseff "undeniable."

Justice charges

Since taking over as interim president when Rousseff was suspended to face trial in May, Temer has taken the government sharply rightward.

With Brazil in its worst recession in decades and crippled by corruption, Temer says the country needs to leave behind 13 years of leftist rule by Rousseff's Workers' Party.

The political mess makes a sad backdrop to the Olympics that were awarded to Rio in 2009 when Rousseff's predecessor and political mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was hugely popular.

Now, not only is Rousseff facing oblivion, but Lula is set to go on trial for obstruction of justice charges. He also faces corruption allegations that could sink his hopes of returning to power in the 2018 elections.

Rousseff, Brazil's first woman president, is a former leftist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured by the country's military regime in the 1970s.

She rode Lula's coattails to power when term limits forced him to step down in 2011.

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