Updated 1 week, 5 days ago

Michel Temer government in big trouble

A judge on Brazil’s Supreme Court authorized new corruption investigations this week involving dozens of the country’s most powerful politicians, dealing yet another blow to the beleaguered government of President Michel Temer.

The ruling by Justice Luiz Edson Fachin allows federal prosecutors to start new inquiries of at least eight ministers in Mr. Temer’s cabinet, including his chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, and his foreign minister, Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, as well as much of the Senate.

Altogether, this means that nearly a third of the cabinet and nearly a third of the Senate will be the target of inquiries in this new phase of the colossal scandal that emerged three years ago into graft around Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company.

Governing under the cloud of investigations is nothing new for Mr. Temer, whose government has limped from scandal to scandal with low approval ratings since taking power nearly a year ago following a prolonged battle to oust his leftist predecessor, Dilma Rousseff.

Yet the new inquiries come at a crucial time for Mr. Temer, who is trying to win approval in Congress of an overhaul of the crisis-plagued pension system that is viewed as an important factor in the quest to restore confidence in Brazil’s economy.

Still, some of the political leaders from Mr. Temer’s governing Brazilian Democratic Movement Party who were included on Tuesday on Justice Fachin’s list were already the target of other slow-moving graft inquiries, as were members of other parties including the leftist Workers’ Party. Those in the president’s cabinet or in Congress enjoy special judicial standing that effectively prevents many powerful office holders in Brazil from going to prison.

Moreover, some of the details regarding the politicians targeted in the new investigations had already filtered into the Brazilian news media in connection to testimony by executives at Odebrecht, a construction giant and Petrobras contractor that created a system to pay bribes.

“The cost in terms of reputation is low since this is something that’s already priced in,” said Marcus Melo, a political scientist at the Federal University of Pernambuco, in an analysis in the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.

Yet even though these investigations could drag on for months or even years, they add to the pressure on a leader who was already facing a case in which he is accused of running on a ticket that got millions of dollars in illegal campaign donations.

Justice Fachin wrote in his ruling that prosecutors had reviewed evidence and transcriptions including “mentions of the participation of Michel Temer” in developments related to the investigations authorized into some of the president’s top allies.

The judge, however, also emphasized that prosecutors had said that Mr. Temer has “temporary immunity,” preventing the president from being investigated for acts committed outside of his current mandate, which lasts through next year.