Rift between Brazil's Senate and judiciary could derail fiscal reform

October 26, 2016 7:10 PM EDT

Brazil's President Michel Temer attends an economics and politics forum in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker


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By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The president of Brazil's Senate urged the Supreme Court on Wednesday to halt an investigation into the use of Senate police to protect senators from a corruption probe, stoking tensions between the judiciary and the legislative branch.

The row threatens to cast a shadow over Brazilian President Michel Temer's efforts to push through legislative reforms to restore fiscal discipline to Brazil's overdrawn budget accounts.

Senate President Renan Calheiros, who faces several corruption investigations, filed an injunction requesting that the Supreme Court respect boundaries between the different branches of government and stop an operation that "invaded" the jurisdiction of the Senate.

The injunction requests the suspension of the police operation and the immediate return of the equipment seized from Senate police that was used to sweep the homes of senators to see if they were bugged, according to a copy provided by Calheiros' office.

The dispute erupted last Friday when federal police arrested the head of the Senate police force for counter-intelligence efforts to protect senators implicated in a sprawling graft scandal, mostly by sweeping their homes for bugs.

Calheiros then blasted the lower court judge who issued the arrest warrant. In an apparent response, Supreme Court Chief Justice Carmen Lucia Rocha rebuffed the senator, declaring that any attack on a judge was an attack on her.

Calheiros has also criticized Temer's justice minister, who is responsible for law enforcement and the federal police, for allowing the operation that seized counter-espionage equipment from Senate police offices.

Senate policemen detained in the operation told investigators they were ordered to sweep the homes of three senators and a former president of Brazil, who are under investigation in the sprawling graft scandal centered on state-controlled oil company Petrobras.

The Temer administration is worried that the dispute will spill over onto the Senate floor and upset the passage of the spending ceiling that cleared the lower house by a comfortable margin on Tuesday..

The constitutional amendment limits federal spending to the rate of inflation for up to 20 years, a measure to plug Brazil's widening budget deficits that have fueled inflation, expanded the public debt and cost the country its prized investment grade credit rating.

Temer attempted to calm tensions by inviting the heads of both chambers of Congress and Chief Justice Rocha to a meeting on Wednesday, but she refused to attend.

Calheiros said he would not let the dispute delay two rounds of voting on the spending cap set for Nov. 29 and Dec. 13.

"The voting dates will be maintained. I will not give in to any pressure to change the timetable of such an important measure for Brazil due to difficult political circumstances," he told reporters.

Calheiros has been accused of receiving bribes by defendants in the Petrobras investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.

He is also being investigated for having a private company pay child support for a daughter he had out of wedlock with a journalist, a scandal that forced him to resign as head of the Senate in 2007 and is now being taken up by the Supreme court.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Diane Craft)



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