BRASILIA, June 8 (Reuters) - 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 election.
“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 trial.
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)