RIO DE JANEIRO, March 5 (Reuters) - The opening of a Brazilian congressional probe into alleged corruption at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA erupted into a shouting match on Thursday when lawmakers rushed the dais and accused the probe’s leader of seeking to manipulate the outcome.
The dispute highlights the rising tension in Congress two days after a federal prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to open investigations into 54 individuals for their alleged role in a giant price-fixing, bribery and political kick-back scandal at Petrobras, as the company is known.
Many of those individuals are expected to include dozens of lawmakers. The list of the political figures targeted could be made public as early as Friday.
Thursday’s fracas began when Hugo Motta, president of the parliamentary-inquiry commission investigating the alleged corruption, tried to open the probe in Brasilia in a congressional meeting room.
Several angry congressmen rushed the dais and began yelling and shaking their fingers in Motta’s face in a protest against his creation of investigating sub-commissions.
Motta, 25, a member of the PMDB and one of the youngest members of Congress, responded by yelling into his microphone.
“You must show me respect! You must show me respect!” Motta screamed repeatedly as he trembled angrily and shook his own finger back at his opponents. “I will not open the session like this.”
The dispute centered on Motta’s decision to create several sub-commissions with their own rapporteurs, a move that some suggested would undermine the power of the commission’s main rapporteur, Luiz Sergio, a member of Rousseff’s party, the PT.
Rapporteurs, because they control the writing of the commission’s final report, have great power over the official conclusions.
Those who rushed the dias inlcuded members of the PT and its ally the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). After a few minutes, the protesters relented, and the deliberations proceeded.
The near brawl also underscores a widening rift between the Workers’ Party (PT) of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), long her main ally in Congress, over austerity measures Rousseff has proposed to fight inflation and revive a stagnant economy.
Mota had given one the four sub-commission rapporteur positions to members of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), the G1 internet news service reported. PSDB presidential candidate Aecio Neves ran second to Rousseff in October presidential elections and has blamed government. (Reporting by Jeb Blount Editing by W Simon)