Expenses row shifts to Brazil

SAO PAULO: Brazilian politicians were Thursday caught in an expenses scandal resembling the one that has plunged Britain's parliament into crisis.

Unlike in Britain, though, the Brazilian lawmakers looked likely to escape unscathed from revelations many were benefiting from housing rental allowances even though they were not renting properties.

The head of Brazil's Senate, Jose Sarney, admitted Thursday he was one of the elected politicians to claim 3,800 reais (1,900 dollars) a month for rent in the capital Brasilia, despite living in a rent-free official residence provided by congress.

Sarney -- who earlier this week denied getting paid the rent allowance -- told reporters he would reimburse the money from his own pocket. He said the 79,800 reais he had been receiving from May 2007 was an "administrative error."

Two other senators who also had official residences in Brasilia were also told by the Senate's administrative committee to return money they received.

Media including the news network Globo and the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo said 42 senators in the 81-seat senate had been receiving the rental allowance despite it being scrapped in 2002 for those who had official or private residences in the capital.

But a senior Senate member who is in charge of making the payments, Mao Santa, challenged that 2002 decision and said Sarney and the other senators should hold on to their allowances.

"The law doesn't say that, that you can't have it (the allowance). It has to be the same for everyone," he argued to Globo's G1 website. "I could have a house, but I don't. What should I do? Be envious of someone else who does?"

The Senate's administrative committee agreed with Santa's position later Thursday, overturning the 2002 rule and allowing all senators to receive the allowance, regardless of whether they used it for renting.