Influence-peddling case fells Brazil president's ally

Damian WROCLAVSKY

Brasília (AFP) - A prominent Brazilian government minister resigned on Friday in a scandal over alleged influence-peddling reportedly implicating President Michel Temer.

Government secretary Geddel Vieira Lima, 57, is the sixth minister to quit in Latin America's biggest country since Temer took office in May.

A string of scandals has snared numerous top politicians and threatens to engulf the conservative president himself. He has denied wrongdoing.

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Brazilian newspapers reported another ex-minister telling police that Temer had pressured him to intervene in a business deal involving Vieira Lima.

Former culture minister Marcelo Calero said Temer and Vieira Lima asked him to approve a building project in the seaside city of Salvador de Bahia, where Vieira Lima has an apartment, Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said.

News website G1 reported that Calero recorded the conversation with Temer.

Temer denied the allegation.

"The president treats all his ministers equally and never induced any of them to take any decision that might go against internal norms or his own convictions," presidential spokesman Alexandre Parola said in a statement.

"That is how he dealt with the culture minister."

Temer's Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said Calero "went too far."

Calero contrived the meeting and recorded it, "which what's more is a crime," Jungmann said in an interview Friday with AFP.

- Counter-impeachment -

Temer, 76, took over as acting head of state in May before becoming full president in August after his leftist rival Dilma Rousseff was impeached.

Three of his ministers resigned after being named in a major corruption scandal involving the state oil firm Petrobras. Another quit over internal irregularities.

Calero quit last week and Vieira Lima became number six on Friday, resigning in a letter to Temer published in the media.

He was a key driver of Temer's policies, including unpopular austerity measures the government says are needed to fix Brazil's finances.

A key suspect in the Petrobras affair has reportedly made allegations against Temer but the president is not under any formal investigation so far.

Rousseff was impeached over unrelated allegations that she fiddled state accounts while in office.

Her allies have now threatened a motion to try to impeach Temer himself.

Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party said it had demanded to see a full copy of Calero's testimony.

"If it is found that there was a crime by officials, then an impeachment trial should be opened against Temer," said the party's leader in Congress, Afonso Florence.

- Spilling the beans -

Brazil entered a boom under Rousseff's predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from 2003 to 2010. But it plunged into recession last year.

Jailed construction tycoon Marcelo Odebrecht has reportedly implicated Temer in testimony to investigators over the Petrobras affair.

Now he is reported to be preparing to sign a plea bargain that could spill the beans about numerous politicians.

Congress was accused Thursday of seeking to rush into law an amnesty that would let lawmakers off the hook from the probe.

The Sao Paulo stock exchange dipped in early trading on Friday. It was virtually stable in the early afternoon.

The real currency weakened 0.7 percent against the dollar, recovering a deeper earlier loss.

"It is all a consequence of this political situation. There is seen to be much instability," market analyst Claudio Oliveira said.

"How will investors react if the Brazilian government falls again?"

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