The Brazilian Senate narrowly voted Wednesday, September 12, to absolve the embattled senate president, Renan Calheiros, a key ally of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who faced expulsion over corruption allegations.
Calheiros was accused of accepting US$ 8,000 a month in bribes between 2004 and 2005 from a construction company in exchange for helping it win government contracts. He denied the charges and had refused to resign. However, he did admit using the lobbyist to pass child support payments to his former mistress.
The Senate finally voted 40-35 with six abstentions to absolve Calheiros in a secret vote. The Senate leader had successfully fought for the vote to be held behind closed doors in hopes that he could more easily win support from fellow senators.
While the vote was a huge personal victory for Calheiros, analysts said it was so close that the Senate could end up paralyzed by the outcome for months, which would hurt Lula's legislative agenda. Some analysts predicted there will be renewed calls for Calheiros to resign because he is expected to face more investigations.
Calheiros left the Senate without speaking to reporters but his opponents said he was weakened so much by the scandal that he won't be effective as Senate president and that the entire institution was tarnished by the outcome.
Calheiros from the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, PMDB, has acknowledged that he used a lobbyist friend from the Mendes Junior construction company as a go-between to hide his role in paying for an apartment and a pension for his illegitimate daughter with a journalist. He said the money was his own.
However, the admission prompted questions about how he was able to afford generous contributions on a salary of just over US$ 6.000 a month. Calheiros said he had income from a number of farms, although several people said to be his customers told Brazilian TV they had never done business with him.
A cattle rancher from poor Alagoas state in Brazil's northeast Calheiros is a former justice minister who rose to national power as a key backer of former President Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned as Congress was preparing to impeach him on corruption charges in 1992.
The vote by the 81-member Senate came six weeks after the Brazilian Supreme Court indicted 40 people accused by federal prosecutors of paying or taking bribes, including influential members of President Lula da Silva's Workers Party such as his former chief of staff and congressmen from allied parties.
The Brazilian president has always denied knowledge of any corruption schemes, and has retained his personal popularity. Lula da Silva indicated however, that he thought the case of Senator Calheiros, who had been an important ally, needed to be resolved, as the controversy threatened to undermine important legislation.