But even before that court ruling, Rousseff’s government was in hot water—with an entirely different scandal.
In 2014, a money-laundering investigation uncovered the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history at Petrobras, the state-run oil firm and largest company in the country. Investigators discovered an alleged secret network of bribes and kickbacks. Between 2004 and 2014, Petrobras executives overcharged the company for construction contracts and funneled millions of dollars of extra cash to themselves, others, or politicians, including members of Rousseff’s Workers Party. Millions of Brazilians—mostly middle-class people who already opposed Rousseff’s government—protested the scandal. Rousseff was not implicated in the alleged corruption, but it had occurred while she served on Petrobras’s board of directors, and while her political mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, widely known as “Lula,” was president of Brazil. (Rousseff is his handpicked successor.) Rousseff’s approval ratings have plummeted since, and protests have grown to include even her supporters.
What happened this year?
Things got worse. In early March, Brazilian police announced Lula had received illegal kickbacks from the corruption at Petrobras and was “one of the main beneficiaries of these crimes.” “There is evidence that the crimes enriched him and financed electoral campaigns and the treasury of his political group,” police said.
On March 15, Rousseff named Lula her chief of staff, a Cabinet position that would grant him immunity from prosecution. On March 16, the day before Lula was sworn in, a prosecutor in the Petrobras scandal released tapped phone calls between the two politicians that suggested Rousseff gave Lula the job to help shield him from prosecution in the Petrobras scandal. Two days later, a justice on Brazil’s highest court suspended Lula’s nomination.
How did lawmakers respond?
On March 17, the day Lula was sworn in, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil’s congress, voted to create a special commission in charge of an impeachment process against Rousseff. This week, the committee recommended that the legislature seek impeachment. Brazil’s constitution says a president can be impeached for a “crime of responsibility,” and the committee determined that Rousseff’s alleged tampering of budget numbers in 2014 fit that bill. (Fun fact: More than half of the members of that committee are under investigation for corruption or other serious crimes.)
So what happens now?
The committee’s decision paved the way for a full vote Sunday by the lower house. A two-thirds majority is required to move the impeachment proceedings to the Federal Senate, the upper house, for another vote. If the Senate approves impeachment, Rousseff would be suspended and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer as soon as early May. A trial could last six months.