RIO DE JANEIRO/May 20, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — Brazil’s top prosecutor is accusing President Michel Temer of corruption and obstruction of justice, according to an investigation released Friday by the supreme court, dramatically escalating pressure to force the embattled leader from office.
At the same time, other released documents said the owner of a major meatpacker has told prosecutors that he transferred $150 million to offshore accounts for the campaigns of Temer’s two predecessors in the presidency.
Attorney General Rodrigo Janot’s charges against Temer threaten to drive him from the presidency and represent an extraordinary development in a corruption probe that is upending politics and just about everything else in Latin America’s largest nation.
For Temer, a 76-year-old career politician who was not elected, the fallout could cost him his job. Temer, then vice president, took power a year ago after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and later removed from office for illegally managing the federal budget.
By Friday afternoon, O Globo, the flagship paper of Brazil’s largest media company, was calling for Temer’s resignation, delivering a significant blow to Temer’s prospects for survival. The media group had supported Temer’s proposed economic overhaul, and more generally wields enormous influence because of its popular soap operas and media dominance.
The attorney general’s formal presentation of evidence is the latest revelation related to a secretly recorded audio that purportedly captured Temer endorsing the paying of hush money to an ex-lawmaker now serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption. The audio was first reported by O Globo on Wednesday night and has been rocking the country ever since.
In a plea bargain that was part of the documents released Friday by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the same man who reportedly recorded the president also says he paid $1.5 million in bribes to Temer.
Janot says Temer and Sen. Aecio Neves have tried to derail the three-year-old “Car Wash” investigation into a huge kickback scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras via legislative means and by influencing police investigators.
“In this way, there is evidence of possibly committing the crime of obstructing justice,” Janot wrote.
Because the case involves a sitting president, the process is different than in any other kind of criminal case. With a formal investigation now opened, Janot’s next step will be to decide whether his case is strong enough to send it for consideration by the lower Chamber of Deputies in Congress.
If at least two-thirds of the members of the lower house voted in favor, the case would be sent back to the top court, which would then decide whether to put Temer on trial. If the court decided to try Temer, he would be suspended from office for up to 180 days. A conviction would permanently remove him from office.
At least eight pieces of proposed legislation to impeach Temer have been submitted in Congress, and a stream of people from many walks of life has been calling for him to step down.
On Friday, former Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa added his voice.
“There is not another way out: Brazilians must organize, go to the streets and demand with strength the immediate resignation of Michel Temer,” Barbosa Tweeted.
Temer’s administration began questioning both the legality and content of the recording first reported by O Globo.
“President Michel Temer does not believe in the veracity of the declarations” in the recording, according to a statement from his office.
The statement also noted that the person who made the recording, JBS meat-packing company executive Joesley Batista, is under investigation himself and thus was “taking advantage” of the situation. The recording was turned over to prosecutors as part of a Batista plea bargain.
In the documents released Friday, Batista also said his company paid Temer about $1.5 million from 2010 to 2017. Some of those funds were disguised as legal campaign donations and others were channeled to Temer’s public image consultant Elsinho Mouco, Batista said.
Attempts to locate Mouco for comment were not successful. The presidency also didn’t immediately respond to queries seeking comment about the latest revelations.
In Batista’s plea bargain, he also told authorities that he transferred $150 million to offshore bank accounts for campaigns of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor in the presidency, Dilma Rousseff.
Batista said former finance minister Guido Mantega was the middle man in the operation. He also said both former presidents were aware of the transfers, but did not say where the accounts were based. Batista also didn’t say for which campaigns the money was transferred.
Rousseff denied the accusations in a statement and said she never had offshore bank accounts. Silva’s spokesman said Batista’s accusations are hearsay that was never investigated.
For Silva, president between 2003 and 2010, the accusations add to a long list of corruption cases against him, which may ultimately keep him from running for the presidency in 2018.
The sprawling “Car Wash” probe has already put dozens of Brazil’s top businessmen and politicians in prison. Many more are being investigated.
After the O Globo report on Temer, Brazil’s highest court opened an investigation into the accusation late Thursday and lifted the seal on the nearly 39-minute recording, which is scratchy and often inaudible.
In it, two men can be heard talking about former Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, now serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering. Globo’s report identified the men as Temer and Batista.
One man, apparently Temer, complains that Cunha could potentially embarrass him.
“Within my limits, I did the most I could there. I settled everything,” responds the other man, apparently Batista. “He came and collected, etc., etc., etc. I am good with Eduardo, OK?”
The first man then says: “You have to keep that up, see?” To which the second man responds: “Every month.”
In a national address Thursday, Temer emphatically denied that he had authorized any bribes and defiantly vowed to continue in office.
His short speech did little to calm nerves during a volatile day that saw a 10 percent drop in Brazil’s stock market and an 8 percent drop in the real against the U.S. dollar. By late Friday, the real had risen 3 percent and stocks were up nearly 2 percent in the Ibovespa exchange.
PETER PRENGAMAN, Associated Press
MAURICIO SAVARESE, Associated Press