Brazil’s Rousseff broke no laws, impeachment trial hears

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BRASÍLIA, Brazil (AFP) – Suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s former economy minster testified Saturday that Rousseff did not break any laws justifying impeachment, as her trial closed in on next week’s climax.

Rousseff, 68, is accused of taking illegal state loans to help bridge budget shortfalls and mask the true state of the economy during her 2014 reelection campaign.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gestures during the opening ceremony of the 4th National Policy Conference on Women in Brasilia on May 10, 2016. Rousseff vowed Tuesday to serve out her full term, on the eve of a Senate vote on opening an impeachment trial that could mark her last day in office. Rousseff is accused of using accounting tricks and unauthorized state loans to boost public spending during her 2014 re-election campaign. She argues the same accounting techniques were used regularly by previous governments and fall far short of an impeachable offense. / AFP PHOTO / EVARISTO SA
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gestures during the opening ceremony of the 4th National Policy Conference on Women in Brasilia on May 10, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / EVARISTO SA)

The one-time Marxist guerrilla, who was imprisoned and tortured under Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, says the charges are trumped up and amount to a rightwing coup.

Former economy minister Nelson Barbosa and Rio State University law professor Ricardo Lodi were the final defense witnesses brought to testify that Rousseff did not break the law or harm the economy, which is now in deep recession.

 “There is nothing remotely illegal,” Barbosa said. “You cannot act retroactively with a new interpretation of the law.”

The same argument was delivered Friday by a first batch of Rousseff witnesses who said that such budgetary maneuvers have long been common practice and that Brazil’s economic decline was entirely unrelated.

Her accusers laid out their case on the trial’s opening day Thursday, arguing that Rousseff was criminally irresponsible and helped run once booming Brazil into the ground.

Tension is building ahead of Monday when Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, will take the stand for the first time and face her accusers.

She will be accompanied by her mentor and predecessor in the presidency, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula rose from poverty to found the Workers’ Party and become one of Brazil’s most popular presidents ever before helping Rousseff take his place.

The once all-powerful pair are now demonized by the right, blamed for Brazil’s economic shambles and tainted by the revelation of a gigantic corruption scheme at state oil giant Petrobras which peaked during the Lula presidency.

Lula’s presence and Rousseff’s allegations of a plot to destroy 13 years of Workers’ Party rule will make for a highly charged atmosphere in the deeply divided Senate where a shouting match broke out Friday, forcing the session to be suspended.

Final arguments will follow Rousseff’s testimony, then the voting session, which will include speeches by each senator, with the final result expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

Two thirds or 54 out of the 81 senators must vote for impeachment to force Rousseff’s immediate removal. The latest estimates by opposition senators and major Brazilian newspapers is that the pro-impeachment side is on track to win.

The current acting president Michel Temer — Rousseff’s former vice president turned bitter enemy — would then be sworn in to occupy the post until 2018 elections.

Since he took over the temporary job with Rousseff’s suspension in May, Temer has installed a new center-right cabinet with a market-friendly message that has won plaudits from investors.

Brazil’s economy shrank 3.8 per cent in 2015 and is forecast to drop a further 3.3 per cent this year, a historic recession. Inflation stands at around nine per cent and unemployment at 11 per cent.

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