RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s top prosecutor is accusing President Michel Temer of corruption and obstruction of justice, according to an investigation released by the country’s supreme court on Friday.
Attorney General Rodrigo Janot’s charges dramatically increase the threat to drive the president out of office and represent an extraordinary escalation of a corruption probe that is upending politics and just about everything else in Latin America’s largest nation.
The formal accusations are the latest revelations 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 Globo newspaper Wednesday night, and has been rocking the country ever since.
In a plea bargain by the same man who recorded Temer, released as part of the document dump by the Supreme Tribunal Federal, the president is accused of taking $1.5 million in bribes.
Janot says that Temer and Sen. Aecio Neves have tried to derail the “Car Wash” probe via legislative means and by influencing police investigators.
“In this way, there is evidence of possibly committing the crime of obstructing justice,” Janot wrote.
Meanwhile, Temer’s administration began questioning both the legality and content of the recording, an apparent strategy
“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 and thus was “taking advantage” of the situation. The recording was turned over to prosecutors as part of a Batista plea bargain.
Local media outlets reported that the president planned to have the audio analyzed, though his office declined to confirm that.
In the documents released Friday, Batista also said his company paid Temer about US$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, according to Batista.
Attempts to locate Mouco for comment were not successful. The presidency also didn’t immediately respond to queries seeking comment about the latest revelations.
Brazil’s highest court opened an investigation into the accusation against Temer 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 newspaper, which first reported the recording Wednesday night, said the men are 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.”
Temer addressed the nation on Thursday, denying that he had authorized any bribes and vowing to continue in office. His short speech did little to calm nerves during a volatile that saw a 10 percent drop in Brazil’s stock market and an 8 percent drop in the real against the U.S. dollar.
In early trading Friday, the real had clawed back 3 percent of its value and stocks were up 2 percent in the Ibovespa exchange. Still, it’s unlikely that the volatility, either in Latin America’s largest economy or its politics, has ended.
The revelations are the latest fallout from the so “Car Wash” investigation into a kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras. Launched three years ago, dozens of the country’s top businessmen and politicians have been jailed and many more are being investigated.
Later Friday, the entirety of Batista’s plea bargain was expected to be released, which could very well include more damaging accusations against Temer and others in government.
At least eight pieces of proposed legislation to impeach Temer have been submitted in Congress, and a steady stream of people from many walks of life are continue to call 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,” tweeted Barbosa.
Peter Prengaman on Twitter: twitter.com/peterprengaman
Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: twitter.com/MSavarese