| BRASILIA, June 8
BRASILIA, June 8 The majority of judges on
Brazil's top electoral court argued on Thursday to exclude
testimony, by construction and engineering group Odebrecht SA
executives, on illegal campaign funding in a case that could
topple President Michel Temer.
Exclusion of the Odebrecht plea bargain testimonies by the
Supreme Electoral Tribunal would strengthen Temer's assertions
that his campaign received no illegal funding when he ran as
former leftist president Dilma Rousseff's running mate in 2014.
Justice Gilmar Mendes, who presides over the court known as
TSE, said any ruling will have to take into account the
country's stability and not compel Temer to step down for an
unwarranted minor reason. Mendes as well as justices Napoleão
Nunes Maia, Admar Gonzaga and Tarcísio Vieira argued against
allowing the Odebrecht testimony.
In recent plea-bargain testimony, Odebrecht executives told
prosecutors they funneled millions of dollars under the table to
the 2014 campaign of Rousseff and Temer.
The Temer and Rousseff defense teams requested the testimony
be scrapped by the court known as TSE, holding that it went
beyond the scope of the original complaint filed by the
Brazilian Social Democracy Party after it lost the 2014
"Temer has the votes to stay in office," said Welber Barral,
a Brasilia insider and political consultant who is following the
case closely, as is most of the country and its investors.
Barral said the court will most probably vote 4-3 to through
out the case to annul the Rousseff-Temer ticket and its 2014
election victory for allegedly receiving donations illegally.
Any of the seven judges, however, could ask for time to study
the case, which could delay a final ruling for weeks.
Temer opponents are counting on a TSE ruling against the
scandal-hit president to force him from office. The country
remains ensnared in a political crisis triggered last year by
the impeachment of Rousseff.
The Brazilian real and the benchmark Bovespa stock
index slipped on Thursday on weak trading volumes,
signaling increased investor caution over the outcome of the
Temer has canceled meetings to follow the court session on
television in his presidential office, an aide said. "The
president is confident his defense with prevail," Temer
spokesman Marcio de Freitas told Reuters.
The court, which began hearing the case on Tuesday, is
expected to rule later on Thursday or on Friday, though a final
decision could take months if an unfavorable decision is
appealed by Temer to the Supreme Court.
If the TSE annulled the election result and forced Temer
from office, lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia would take over,
and Congress would have 30 days to pick a caretaker to lead the
country until elections in late 2018.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle; Additional
reporting by Bruno Federowski in São Paulo Editing by W Simon)