RIO DE JANEIRO – A former tourist minister and ally of embattled President Michel Temer was arrested on Tuesday, increasing pressure on Brazil’s top leader hours ahead of an electoral court trial that could push him from power.
The high-profile arrest also came just a day after federal police sent Temer a list of questions in a separate criminal probe that involves him.
Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, another former ally. Cunha is serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering. Temer has denied wrongdoing and has vowed to stay in office in the face of increasing calls for him to step down.
“Temer is hanging on by the skin of his teeth,” said David Fleischer, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasilia.
The latest developments in Brazil’s ongoing political crisis began early Tuesday when former Tourism Minister Henrique Eduardo Alves was taken into custody on allegations of corruption related to the construction of a 2014 World Cup stadium in Natal.
Globo News captured images of Alves being arrested by federal police. Officials held a news conference later where they laid out allegations that Alves and Fred Queiroz, Natal’s secretary of public works, received bribes from major construction companies.
Alves, a former speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies, was tourism minister under President Dilma Rousseff and Temer, who assumed the country’s top post last year when Rousseff was removed for illegally managing the federal budget. Alves left the minister position soon after Temer took power in May 2016.
Later Tuesday, the Superior Electoral Court was to begin the judgment phase of a trial involving allegations that the 2014 Rousseff-Temer ticket received illegal campaign financing. The court is expected to meet for three days and could make a ruling this week.
If the court decides that the ticket did receive illegal campaign financing, as several plea bargains have suggested, what’s left of Temer’s mandate would be annulled. However, the career politician whose popularity is hovering around 8 percent has said he would appeal.