Brazil’s Supreme Court released testimony by corporate leaders accused of corruption Friday that accuses President Michel Temer of taking nearly $5 million in bribes from the world’s largest meat processor.
The testimony follows the release of audio that allegedly exposes a conversation between the head of the meat processing corporation JBS SA and Temer in which the president appears to encourage and approve of bribing Eduardo Cunha, the architect of his predecessor’s impeachment, into silence.
Reuters reported Friday that JDS executives had accused Temer, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), of taking $4.6 million in bribes from the company. The testimony also implicates two former presidents, both of the socialist Workers’ Party (PT): Temer’s predecessor Dilma Rousseff, and Rousseff’s mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The revelation follows a bombshell report from the Brazilian newspaper O Globo revealing recorded conversations allegedly between Temer and Joesley Batista, the chief executive of JBS, in which Temer appears to approve of bribing Cunha into silence. “The tapes recorded by JBS’s Joesley Batista reveal that President Michel Temer heard, without objection or reporting to authorities afterwards, the story of an entrepreneur… detailing mechanisms he used to obstruct justice, such as co-opting judges and prosecutors,” O Globo reported.
Batista and his brother, Wesley, who also manages the company, reportedly handed the 39-minute tape over to the nation’s Supreme Court as part of a plea bargain on corruption allegations. O Globo has published the audio, in which a voice reportedly belonging to Batista confirms he is paying Eduardo Cunha a monthly bribe to keep him from testifying against JBS or Temer. “That has to continue, ok?” Temer appears to respond, later saying “excellent” to reports Batista was buying off other legal officials.
O Globo also claims to have surveillance video proof of bribes being handed off that appear to correspond with the orders in the conversation between Batista and Temer.
The Presidential Palace’s press officers have requested a copy of the audio from the Supreme Court to compare to the audio released by O Globo as Temer insists he did not agree to or condone any bribery or obstruction of justice. “I never authorized payments to anyone to stay quiet,” he said during a nationally televised address Thursday. “I will not resign. I did not buy anyone’s silence.”
“I demand a full and quick investigation to clear up (the situation) for the Brazilian people,” he concluded.
O Globo reported Friday that the nation’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot appears to believe that the audio is legitimate, sending a document to the Supreme Court “affirming” that the audio appears to show Temer approving a plan to pay for the silence of Cunha and other officials. Janot asserts, “The context of the dialogues makes clear that the interest in keeping payments of bribes to Eduardo Cunha coming was related to the possibility that Cunha… could reveal facts that compromise the group.”
Eduardo Cunha, the man at the center of the scandal, was once the Speaker of Brazil’s House of Representatives, and in that role the fellow PMDB member orchestrated the efforts to impeach Rousseff, even as his party colleague served as Rousseff’s vice president. In October 2016, months after successfully completing the impeachment process that made Temer president, Cunha was arrested for accepting millions in bribes as part of a larger investigation known as “Operation Car Wash.”
“Operation Car Wash” is a probe into a sprawling web of corruption with the state-owned oil corporation, Petrobras, at its center. Under Lula, Petrobras routinely overcharged contractors for work, and the contractors would then bribe politicians with the extra money they made from their projects. The kickback scheme was implicated Lula, as well, who stands accused of taking millions and buying a luxurious beachfront property with it. While Cunha was convicted of his crimes, Lula remains under investigation and denies all charges.
Cunha successfully organized the impeachment move against Rousseff by accusing her of illegally altering financial statements to hide Brazil’s deficit from potential foreign investors.