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Brazil's President Michel Temer speaks during the ceremony of launching the Agricultural and Livestock Plan 2017/2018, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino(reuters_tickers)
By Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's top electoral court on Wednesday was split over whether to allow new evidence in plea-bargain testimony from construction company Odebrecht in an illegal campaign funding case that could lead to President Michel Temer leaving office.
The issue delayed proceedings on the second day of sessions by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which adjourned until Thursday without voting on whether to annul Temer's ticket in the 2014 election for allegedly receiving under-the-table donations.
Temer opponents expect a TSE ruling against the president to force him from office and help Brazil exit a political crisis stoked by graft allegations against the centre-right leader. A TSE decision could take weeks if not months and could be appealed by Temer.
The judge tasked with spearheading the case, Herman Benjamin, said the additional evidence in plea bargain testimony by Odebrecht executives was crucial to determine whether former president Dilma Rousseff and her running mate Temer used illicit funds in their 2014 campaign.
Benjamin, who is expected to vote to annul the ticket and its 2014 election victory, said Odebrecht was the "biggest parasite" among the companies accused of paying billions in kickbacks from overpriced contracts with state-run oil company Petrobras.
But Judge Napoleão Nunes Maia said he would oppose use of the extra plea statements as evidence, arguing that the case would never end if it continued to add information from the avalanche of testimonies in the Car Wash probe.
Temer, who replaced Rousseff when she was impeached last year, has said his campaign accounts received no illegal money.
The defence team of both Temer and Rousseff requested the testimony be scrapped, arguing that it went beyond the scope of the original complaint filed by the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) after it lost the 2014 election.
The PSDB's own candidate in that race, Aecio Neves, has since been charged for graft himself, accused of taking millions in bribes from the world's largest meatpacker, JBS SA.
In plea-bargain testimony given in Brazil's sprawling "Car Wash" graft investigation, Odebrecht executives said the company channelled millions of dollars to the Rousseff-Temer campaign in illegal donations.
If the seven-justice tribunal decides that Rousseff and Temer used illegal money to fund their campaign, it could annul the election result and force Temer from office.
If Temer is removed 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; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Andrew Hay)