BRASILIA, Brazil – The lead prosecutor in the trial to oust Brazil’s first female president said Tuesday that Dilma Rousseff had committed “fraud” in her accounting practices, then came to tears saying she hopes the leader forgives her for causing her to suffer.
Speaking on the fifth day of a trial to decide Rousseff’s fate, Janaina Paschoal said the leader had broken fiscal responsibility laws in managing the federal budget. “We are not dealing with a little accounting problem, we are dealing with fraud,” she said.
“It wasn’t just that a president lied,” said Paschoal. “The fraud was spoken and the fraud was documented.”
Wrapping up her presentation minutes later, Paschoal came to tears when she said she hoped Rousseff would be forgiving for “having caused her to suffer.”
The dramatic presentation came in the final phase of a political fight that has consumed Latin America’s largest nation since an impeachment measure was introduced in the lower Chamber of Deputies late last year.
After the prosecution and defense present their final arguments, the Senate was to vote whether to permanently remove Rousseff from office. That decision could come late Tuesday or Wednesday.
Opposition senators accuse Rousseff using illegal means to hide holes in the federal budget, saying that exacerbated a recession, high inflation and layoffs.
Rousseff, a former guerrilla fighter who was tortured and imprisoned during the country’s dictatorship, calls that nonsense. She says she broke no laws and notes that previous presidents used similar accounting measures.
On Monday, she mounted that defense in the Senate, arguing that she was forced to make tough choices on the budget in the face of declining revenues and a refusal by opponents in Congress to work with her.
“I know I will be judged, but my conscience is clear. I did not commit a crime,” Rousseff told senators in a 30-minute address.
Rousseff then took questions from senators for 14 hours.
For Rousseff to be removed, at least 54 of the 81 senators must vote in favor. Local media report at least 52 senators have said they will vote for ouster, while roughly 18 are opposed and 11 have not said. In May, the same body voted 55-22 to impeach and suspend her.
“I need all of you, regardless of political parties,” Rousseff said in her closing remarks to senators, urging them to keep her in the presidency. Their response was tepid.
Watching the proceedings was Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor as president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is himself under investigation.
He and many top leaders have acknowledged that Rousseff’s chances of surviving the Senate’s final vote are slim.
Rousseff had sharp words Monday for her vice president, Michel Temer, who took over when she was suspended and will finish her term if the Senate permanently removes her.
She called him a “usurper” who named a Cabinet of all white men in a country that is more than 50 percent non-white. The Cabinet that Temer chose in May has been roundly criticized for its lack of diversity, with three ministers were forced to step down within a month of taking office because of corruption allegations.
“I’m not sure when, but at some point he began to change,” said Rousseff, who has accused Temer of being the ringleader pushing for her ouster.
Rousseff reminded those in attendance that she was re-elected in 2014, garnering the votes of more than 54 million people she said should not be silenced.
Rousseff asserted that impeachment was the price she paid for refusing to quash a wide-ranging police investigation into the state oil company Petrobras, saying that corrupt lawmakers conspired to oust her to derail the investigation into billions in kickbacks at the oil giant.
The probe has led to the jailing of top businessmen and politicians, including members of her Workers’ Party. Watchdog groups estimate 60 percent of the 594 lawmakers in both chambers are being investigated for wrongdoing, many for corruption related to the Petrobras probe.
Rousseff said it was “an irony of history” she would be judged for crimes she did not commit, by people accused of serious crimes.
“I ask that you be just with an honest president,” she said during her initial address, her voice cracking with emotion.