Brazil leader denies report he endorsed bribing ex-lawmaker

Posted May 19, 2017

Brazilian president Michel Temer is facing calls for impeachment after reports of secret recordings emerged overnight that allegedly implicate him in bribing a former associate.

Brazil's Supreme Court has approved an investigation of President Michel Temer after he was purportedly taped agreeing to bribe a powerful witness in a sprawling anti-graft investigation, Globo TV reported on Thursday without citing a source. Temer who took office on August 31, 2016, after former President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment, is accused of being involved in a corruption scandal, reports said.

Temer's right-wing PMDB party was formerly in a coalition with Rousseff's PT before a rupture a year ago that helped pave the way for the controversial impeachment process, widely condemned as a parliamentary coup.

Mr. Cunha was convicted earlier this year of money laundering and corruption as part of the Operation Car Wash anticorruption probe.

A report by Brazilian media giant O Globo stated that Joesley Batista, chief executive of J&F Investments, which controls JBS Holdings, a meatpacking company, met Temer on March 7.

Even before the audio was released, Thursday began in a panic after Globo's report.

According to Batista, Temer appeared to be satisfied with what was said, lowered his voice, and purportedly said, "Look, you've got to keep that up". Representatives for the Supreme Court and a lawyer representing Neves could not be immediately reached for comment.

In an official statement, Temer admitted to meeting with Batista, but said he never tried to buy Cunha's silence.

Investigators mounting what's called the "Car Wash" probe have uncovered huge corruption from Petrobras, with scores of politicians accused of taking bribes from executives in exchange for sweetheart contracts with the state-owned oil company. "I know what I have done", he said, according to a BBC translation.

Despite the potential threat against Temer, Mendes, who is strongly linked to a party that is allied with Temer's, told Reuters in a March interview that the president would not necessarily lose power if the election were annulled because he was not the head of the ticket.

Adding, "He did not participate in and did not authorize any action with the aim of avoiding plea-bargains or collaboration with the Justice system by the former Congressman".

The news of the recordings spread quickly throughout congress on Wednesday afternoon, leading Chamber of Deputies President, Rodrigo Maia, to interrupt Chamber sessions. In Sao Paulo, the nation's largest city, hundreds of protesters gathered on a main avenue to demand Temer go.

During a brief statement from Planalto presidential palace, Temer said he "never authorized payments to anyone to stay quiet".

The accusations are the latest in a three-year investigation that has centered on billions in political kickbacks paid by Brazil's biggest construction companies in exchange for contracts at state-run oil producer Petrobras and other government enterprises.

James Gulbrandsen, a Rio de Janeiro-based portfolio manager, said the crisis could pave the way for a political outsider like Sao Paulo Mayor Joao Doria to be elected president in coming months.