February 14, 2019
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is confronting the most serious cabinet controversy of his young government as he met with ministers on Thursday to make final changes to a proposed social security overhaul seen as essential to shoring up the economy.
Gustavo Bebianno, secretary general for Bolsonaro and one of his closest aides, has come under fire amid reports of the misuse of campaign funds by the political party he led in last year’s elections. Bolsonaro joined the right-wing Social Liberal Party (PSL) last March as he was preparing his presidential run.
Bolsonaro is expected to meet with Bebianno later on Thursday. The president said in a late Wednesday TV interview that he had ordered a police investigation into whether the party misused campaign funds.
Separately, Bolsonaro was scheduled to meet with Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and other aides to discuss a pension reform proposal aimed at saving some 1 trillion reais ($265 billion) over the next decade.
The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reported earlier this week on an alleged “phantom” PSL candidate for federal Congress who was given 400,000 reais in party campaign funds just days before the election in which she won 274 votes.
Bebianno, then serving as the PSL party president, approved the funding for her campaign. He insists he has broken no laws and has said he will not resign.
Bolsonaro said on Wednesday that if Bebianno was found to have committed any wrongdoing, he would need to leave his post.
The Bebianno controversy is the latest scandal tarnishing the anti-corruption credentials of Bolsonaro, who rode into office pledging zero tolerance for graft after years of political bribery investigations rocking Brasilia.
The president’s son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, is also facing accusations from prosecutors of money laundering and tough questions about irregular payments made to his driver in recent years when he was a member of the Rio de Janeiro state assembly. Flavio Bolsonaro says he has done nothing wrong.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)