Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has formally accused President Michel Temer of corruption in what is expected to be the first in a series of criminal charges against the unpopular leader.
Janot delivered the charge to the Supreme Court, accusing Temer of receiving a US$ 150,000 bribe from the world’s largest meat-packing company, JBS, which is implicated in a sprawling corruption scandal.
Under Brazilian law, the country’s lower house of congress must vote on whether to try a sitting president.
Lawmakers within Temer’s coalition are confident they have enough votes to block the two-third majority required to proceed with a trial.
Temer was defiant, saying that nothing would “destroy” him.
“Nothing will destroy us, neither myself nor my ministers,” he said during a ceremony at the Palácio do Planalto, the seat of the Brazilian government.
If two-thirds of the lower house decides to try Temer, he will be suspended for up to 180 days while his trial is conducted. House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, an ally of Temer, would then be interim president.
Janot had opened an investigation against Temer for corruption, obstruction of justice and being part of a criminal organization last month.
He is expected to file the obstruction of justice and criminal membership charges at a later date, ensuring a sustained legal salvo against the embattled president whose approval ratings are at seven percent.
The decision to slowly drip the charges may be part of a strategy to make congress first handle it before dealing with other charges in order to maintain pressure on the president and congress. Analysts say the strategy may force some of Temer’s backers to break with the president.
“If this grinds on with multiple votes, you may start to see a lack of governability,” said one top lawmaker in Temer’s coalition. “In that case, there will be defections, and colleagues may start to move against Temer.”
Tapes and Videos
The charges filed on Monday stem from a close aide to the president, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, who was arrested earlier this month after police video caught him picking up a bag of alleged bribe money worth around US$ 150,000 given to him by an executive of meatpacker JBS.
Rodrigo Rocha Loures was also charged with corruption on Monday. Prosecutors alleged Loures acted on behalf of Temer who then helped JBS to resolve tax issues and other matters.
Temer has also been recorded in conversation with Joesly Batista, former chairman of JBS, endorsing hush money to former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally who is serving a 15-year sentence for corruption. Batista gave the secretly recorded tape to prosecutors as part of a plea deal.
“The circumstances of this meeting (with Batista) – at night and without any register in the official schedule of the president of the Republic – reveal the intent of not leaving traces of the criminal actions already taken,” Janot wrote in a 64-page document accusing the president.
Janot said Temer may have received as much as US$ 12 million in bribes over the past nine months.
Temer has denied wrongdoing and said the tapes were tampered with.
The accusation marks the first time that a sitting president in Latin America’s largest nation has faced criminal charges.
Earlier this month, Temer batted away illegal campaign financing allegations after the electoral court dismissed a case that could have removed him from office
Temer came to power last year after former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached by her center-right rivals for violating budget laws, in what her leftist allies dubbed a coup.
A third of Temer’s cabinet and dozens of members of congress are being investigated for corruption. Brazil has been rocked by more than three-years of sprawling corruption investigations in politics and business that have fueled public anger and protests.
Most of the investigations are tied to politicians and executives at state-run companies receiving bribes in exchange for contracts. More than 90 people have been convicted.