Nearly a year after Brazil impeached its most-recent president, Dilma Rousseff, prosecutors have charged her successor, Michel Temer, with taking a $152,000 bribe as part of a larger corruption scandal involving a large meatpacking corporation.
Rousseff, of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT), was impeached for fraud, having misrepresented the state of the Brazilian economy to potential foreign investors. Temer, of the “catch-all” ideologically neutral Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) stands accused of conspiring with the head of meatpacking JBS to, among other things, generate illicit profits. He is facing charges of corruption, obstruction of justice, and criminal conspiracy.
According to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, Rodrigo Janot, the nation’s prosecutor general, claims Temer received $152,000 from JBS chief Joesley Batista through an intermediary, though they suggest that the total amount of money the two agreed would change hands was in the millions. In his indictment, Janot accused Temer and Batista of “colluding among themselves” and claimed that Temer has already given an “extrajudicial confession” after admitting that he had met with Batista in his official Brasilia residence. Temer allegedly received the bribes to aid JBS’s business by aiding with permits, taxes, and other matters.
Evidence of collusion between Temer and Batista first surfaced concretely in May when the Brazilian Supreme Court released a tape of an alleged conversation between Temer and Batista, taped by Batista, in which Temer appears to be accepting the suggestion that the two bribe a third party into silence. That third party, former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, is considered the architect of Rousseff’s impeachment and is currently serving time for his part in the scheme known as “Operation Car Wash,” in which dozens of Brazilian politicians were pocketing cash from overcharged projects commissioned by state-run oil corporation Petrobras. At the time, prosecutors were mulling accusations from JDS executives that Temer had taken $4.6 million in bribes from the meatpacking group.
Temer claimed the recorded conversation in question was doctored. The accusations triggered violent left-wing protests against the government.
Folha notes that the charges brought this week are the first such incident against a sitting president, and the Brazilian Congress would need to authorize any criminal litigation involving the president. “If legal action is brought against the president, he will be removed from office for 180 days and will become a defendant,” Folha adds.
To prevent a complete legal action, Temer’s supporters must now prevent legislators from organizing a two-thirds majority, 342 representatives, in Congress to authorize the litigation. The Brazilian newspaper O Globo suggests that Temer is facing a significant chance of not completing his term in office, particularly now that Cunha, his political ally, no longer controls the lower chamber. Instead, the speaker of the House–President of the Chamber of Deputies–is a member of the Democratic Party (a different group from the PMDB), Rodrigo Maia.
Temer and his allies appear to be preparing to accuse Janot of inappropriate political bias against his administration. O Globo suggests that Temer’s administration is concerned that investigators are irreparably biased against him. Folha claims that Temer organized a meeting of high-ranking officials Monday night to plan a strategy against the accusations, in which all concluded to attack Janot for attempting to take down the Brazilian “political class” using allegedly baseless accusations, including the fact that the evidence shows that the money in question reached one of Temer’s former advisers, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, not Temer himself.
In defending himself, Temer does not enjoy particularly strong public support. Even as vice president, polls showed he was almost as despised as Rousseff. An April 2016 poll found that 54 percent of Brazilians in Sao Paulo wanted to impeach Temer along with Rousseff, with 68 percent of those polled saying Temer would be a “fair” or “poor/very poor” president. Sao Paulo’s population often supports leftist politicians, though it also hosted some of the largest protests against Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla.