President of the Brazilian Senate Renan Calheiros reacts during the session for debates for the voting of the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Brazil May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino(reuters_tickers)
By Silvio Cascione
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's chief prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to authorise the arrest of the presidents of the Senate and of the ruling PMDB party for allegedly trying to obstruct police investigations, newspaper O Globo said on Tuesday.
Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki must now decide whether to accept the request, O Globo said.
Chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot also requested permission to arrest suspended House speaker Eduardo Cunha and former president José Sarney, who was a senator until 2014, for seeking to block the two-year-old probe into political kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras <PETR4.SA>.
Senate President Renan Calheiros, PMDB acting president and Senator Romero Jucá, former president Sarney and Cunha are some of Brazil's most powerful political leaders. The four men have denied any attempt to halt the probe.
Their arrests could weaken the new administration of interim President Michel Temer, as it seeks to build support in the Senate to convict suspended President Dilma Rousseff on charges of breaking budgetary laws.
The chief prosecutor also requested Calheiros be removed from the Senate presidency, O Globo said. If he is suspended, an ally of Rousseff, Senator Jorge Viana, would become the acting president of the Senate in the middle of her impeachment trial in the upper house.
The trial is expected to conclude in mid-August as Brazil is hosting the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Under Brazilian law, the Supreme Court must approve any judicial action taken against members of congress. Sarney was included in the request, even though he is no longer a senator, because he is mentioned in the same case as Jucá and Calheiros.
The chief prosecutor's request to the Supreme Court came following the release of recordings made by Sérgio Machado, a former senator and PMDB ally who struck a plea bargain deal with prosecutors to collaborate in the sweeping corruption probe that has plunged Brazil into political mayhem.
Machado recorded Calheiros, Juca and Sarney, separately, allegedly discussing strategies to weaken the investigation.
The recordings were leaked by newspapers in recent weeks and caused Jucá's dismissal as Planning Minister.
The Supreme Court voted unanimously last month to remove Cunha, a bitter rival of Rousseff's, as speaker of the lower house on charges of obstructing the corruption investigation.
Media representatives for Calheiros, Jucá, Sarney, Cunha and Janot did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the O Globo report. A Supreme Court spokeswoman declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Editing by W Simon and Daniel Flynn)