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By Aluísio Alves
SAO PAULO, May 27 (Reuters) - A heavy case load at Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court means a ruling on a landmark savings case dating back more than two decades could be postponed until after the October presidential election, court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello said on Tuesday.
Several other cases that the court, known as STF, began to analyze when the savings ruling was delayed in February now require attention from justices, Mello told Reuters in a phone interview from Brasilia. He said he was against a new delay because the savings case had been on the STF’s agenda since November of last year.
The Brasilia-based court is expected to resume hearings and potentially rule on the case as early as Wednesday.
Millions of depositors claim they were incorrectly remunerated when the Brazilian government changed the indexes that savings rates were pegged to between 1989 and 1991. Plaintiffs introduced thousands of lawsuits against banks years later.
“The crowded agenda points to this possibility. These are five lawsuits about the economic plans, so just a session will be short for a ruling,” Mello said. “The STF was split and I was defeated. If it was up to me, we would have resumed this at the start of the judicial year” early in February, he said.
The savings-account case highlights the legal uncertainties that abound in Brazil, where tax and regulatory disputes with the government can force companies into years of costly litigation. Government officials have warned of potential losses for state-run and private-sector banks stemming from the lawsuits.
According to a recent study from consultancy firm LCA on behalf of Brazil’s central bank, losses could range between 61 billion reais and 346 billion reais ($27 billion and $154 billion) following last week’s decision by the STJ, a second-tier high court, that banks will have to pay accrued interest on any depositor claims.
Early speculation that the eight justices at the STF who will vote on the case might be nearing an accord to delay the ruling helped bolster bank shares in São Paulo.
Shares in state-controlled Banco do Brasil SA led gains with a 1.1 percent rise. Private-sector peers Itaú Unibanco Holding SA added 0.7 percent in afternoon trading, with Banco Bradesco SA erasing early gains and falling 0.1 percent.
If the STF also rules in favor of depositors, it could hurt President Dilma Rousseff’s efforts to revive Brazil’s sagging economy ahead of a re-election bid in October.
State-run lenders would suffer the most and might be forced to turn to the government for fresh capital, analysts said.
$1 = 2.24 Brazilian reais Reporting by Aluísio Alves; Writing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bernadette Baum