Brazil opposition bolsters impeachment case against Rousseff

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a news conference with her Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva
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By Anthony Boadle BRASILIA (Reuters) - Opposition lawyers filed a new petition to Congress for the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday, seeking to unseat the unpopular leftist leader for allegedly doctoring government accounts in 2014 and into her second term. If the request is taken up by the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who himself is under pressure to resign due to corruption allegations, months-long impeachment proceedings would begin, prolonging a political crisis that has deepened Brazil's economic slump. The request is considered the most serious attempt so far to impeach Rousseff because it is based on a federal audit court ruling that her government manipulated its accounts to disguise the size of the deficit and allow for more spending in the run-up to her narrow re-election last year. Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and has accused her opponents of trying to overthrow a legitimate, democratically elected government. She has argued that her government shored up funds for social programs with the same methods used by previous administrations. The authors of the filing are prominent lawyers Helio Bicudo, a founding member of Rousseff's ruling Workers' Party, and Miguel Reale, a former justice minister, who are backed by Brazil's main opposition party, the PSDB. The new petition reinforces an earlier one by the lawyers to include accusations that the doctoring of government accounts continued into Rousseff's current term. It also accuses her of signing spending decrees for 820 million reais ($210 million) without the approval of Congress, an impeachable violation of Brazil's budget laws. Rousseff's government is scrambling to block impeachment proceedings in the lower house, where her opponents would need two-thirds of the votes to approve an impeachment trial that would be held in the Senate. Polls show two in every three Brazilians want to see Rousseff impeached. Her approval has fallen to single digits in recent polls as many blame her for not stopping a corruption scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras and for mismanaging Brazil's once-booming economy. If Congress impeaches Rousseff, Vice President Michel Temer, leader of the country's largest party, the PMDB, would serve as president for the remainder of the term. But it is not clear when, or even whether, the speaker will decide to take up the impeachment request. Cunha is battling to stay in office following revelations of secret Swiss bank accounts in his name that link him to the massive bribery and political kickback scandal at Petrobras. To survive, he has leveraged his power to start an impeachment of the president in a bid to keep the governing coalition from opening hearings against him. "He has the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, so he will delay an impeachment as long as he can," said Andre Cesar, partner at Brasilia-based consultancy Hold Legislative Advisors. On Tuesday, Rousseff accused her opponents of trying to paralyze her government. "Government action will not be hindered by the opposition, however many impeachment requests they make," she told reporters during a visit to Helsinki. An uncertain political future and failure by the Rousseff administration to plug its fiscal deficit led Fitch to cut Brazil's credit rating last week to BBB-minus, the brink of junk status, from BBB, weighing on the country's stock market and currency. The real fell 1.3 percent to 3.95 to the dollar on Wednesday due to growing uncertainty related to the impeachment request. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Maria Carolina Marcello; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alan Crosby)

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