Justice storm on Brazil president
Michel Temer dismissed corruption allegations against him as 'soap opera plot'
1 July, 2017
Michel Temer became the first president of Brazil to face criminal charges while still in office as several past Brazilian presidents and scores of other politicians are currently being investigated for corruption. The bribery charge filed last Monday by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot swept Temer into the forefront of a giant graft scandal that has engulfed Latin America's biggest country over the last three years.
The bribery charge is linked to the arrest of a close former presidential aide with a suitcase stuffed with cash that prosecutors say was part of payments from JBS meatpacking executives to Temer.
In a filing with the Supreme Court, Janot accused Temer of receiving a 500,000 reais (about $150,000) bribe. Charging document also alleges Temer arranged to eventually receive a total of 38m reais ($11.5m) from JBS in the next nine months.
Equally explosive is the allegation that Temer approved of a plan with Joesley Batista, owner of JBS parent company J&F, to pay hush money to a politician jailed for corruption. Batista secretly recorded Temer allegedly discussing the hush money and gave the recording to prosecutors in a plea bargain to secure leniency in his own corruption case. Brazil’s president dismissed corruption allegations against him as a “soap opera plot”. Janot is also probing Temer for alleged obstruction of justice and membership of a criminal group. He could file those charges at a later date, guaranteeing a sustained legal assault.
For Temer to go on trial, the lower house of Congress must first approve Janot's charge by a two-thirds majority. Temer would then be suspended for six months for the trial. Temer's aides say they are confident he has sufficient support in Congress to get the charges thrown out. There is no clear candidate to take his place on an interim basis before scheduled elections in October 2018, and many of the major figures in Congress are themselves battling corruption allegations. But Janot's decision to separate the charges, filing them piecemeal, could drag out the crisis and weaken Temer's base, making congressional approval for a trial more likely.
A long simmering scandal could also have the potential to stir up public anger in the streets.
Temer's latest approval ratings are just 7%, lower than his deeply unpopular leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff, whom he replaced last year after she was impeached by his centre-right congressional allies for breaking budgetary rules. He took over promising to restore political stability and to steer Brazil out of its deepest recession in history with market reforms. The political capital he needs for those reforms, including the hugely unpopular proposal to cut back generous pensions and to free up labour laws, is rapidly slipping away.
The Eurasia Group risk consultancy said there was a 70% chance of Temer lasting to the end of his term through 2018, AFP reported. "Temer still enjoys enough support in congress (at least one-third, or 172 votes) to defend himself against the charges," Eurasia Group's analysis said.