Former Brazil minister arrested hours before key trial

The main ally in his governing coalition, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), is waiting for the court ruling to decide whether to abandon Temer's government, which would sink his fiscal reform agenda.

Prosecutors maintain that in the 2014 elections President Dilma Rousseff and her running mate, Temer, benefited from off-the-books donations.

The seven-judge panel could vote to declare the election result invalid, meaning that Temer - who took over a year ago when Rousseff was impeached - would himself face losing his office.

Temer's lawyers have argued that as the vice presidential candidate in 2014, he should not be held responsible for decisions of the overall ticket.

His arrest came just a day after federal police sent Temer a list of questions in a separate criminal probe that involves the president.

The president will have 24 hours to provide answers.

The electoral court scheduled more sessions for Wednesday and Thursday, but those could be postponed if any of the seven judges asked to review the case.

"We are anxious the prosecutor general of the republic is using all the apparatus that he has to attempt to pressure" the court, he told Folha newspaper.

Leftwing groups had been planning to protest in the capital ahead of the court hearing, with police predicting that several thousand people would attend.

The TSE had previously been considered unlikely to declare Temer illegitimate. At most, it was expected to put the blame for use of dirty campaign money exclusively on Rousseff.

Since she is already out of the picture - having been impeached for breaking government accounting rules in 2015 - the expectation was for the TSE ruling to allow Temer to finish his mandate through 2018.

The opening of a probe into the hush money allegations led to hopes among his opponents that the TSE will seize the opportunity to bring him down - even if the election case is unrelated.

Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, who presides over the electoral court, described the trial that could remove his old friend as "a great learning experience".

Brasilia is swirling with rumors that Janot plans soon to release new secret audio recordings and other evidence compromising the president.

Lead judge Herman Benjamin started reading his opinion towards the end of the nationally televised three-hour hearing on Tuesday evening, after presentations from prosecution and defense lawyers.

In a police video released last month, the adviser Rodrigo Rocha Loures was seen receiving a suitcase containing 500,000 reais ($150,000) in cash that prosecutors say was a bribe from the owner of the world's largest meatpacking company, JBS, Xinhua news agency reported. He was placed under arrest on Saturday but has not yet signalled whether he will agree to cooperate with prosecutors.

Most analysts expect a member of the court to request a delay to study the case further, which would win Temer time to try to rebuild his political base and avoid an exodus of allies.

If Temer is removed from office, lower House Speaker Rodrigo Maia would take over and Congress would have 30 days to pick a caretaker.

In the meantime, the economic austerity reforms that Temer has campaigned hard to push through Congress, calling them key to rescuing Brazil's economy after two years of recession, appear to be increasingly doomed.

  • Leroy Wright