Brazilian president Michel Temer is fighting for his political life after one of the country’s leading businessmen implicated him in buying the silence of a colleague jailed over a corruption scandal.
In a secret recording he made in March, Joesley Batista, whose family company JBS is the world’s largest meat processor, can be heard telling Mr Temer about the payments to the former head of the lower house of congress, Eduardo Cunha.
According to the O Globo newspaper, which broke the story, the president said: “You have to keep this up, okay?” The president’s office admitted the meeting took place but denied Mr Temer sought to buy Mr Cunha’s silence.
Mr Cunha orchestrated the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff which handed the presidency to Mr Temer last year. He was then himself sentenced to 15 years in prison in March for his role in the corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras.
O Globo did not say what he was being paid to keep quiet about.
Reports of the conversation led to immediate demands from the opposition for Mr Temer’s resignation and fresh presidential elections.
Sporadic scuffles broke out in several cities as protesters took to the streets on Wednesday night while investors sold off Brazilian assets.
In 2015 JBS bought Moy Park, Northern Ireland’s largest employer
In a statement, environmental campaigner and two-time presidential candidate Marina Silva accused the president of “sabotaging the republic” and demanded he resign saying “he does not have credibility, he does not have legitimacy”.
The recording was allegedly made following Mr Batista’s decision to co-operate with federal police after investigators uncovered evidence of wrongdoing by his family’s companies. In 2015 JBS bought Moy Park, Northern Ireland’s largest employer. Last year it announced it would set up the headquarters of its overseas operations in Ireland but abandoned the plan in the face of hostility from Brazilian authorities.
JBS did not immediately comment on the latest revelations.
Mr Batista has also reportedly detailed how the Workers’ Party and its main political rival, the Social Democracy Party, solicited under-the-table political contributions from him. Among those named are senator Aécio Neves, who was defeated by Ms Rousseff in 2014’s bitter presidential election and who is now a close ally of Mr Temer. He denies any wrongdoing.
On Thursday morning the supreme court suspended Mr Neves’s mandate after police searched his house and secured an arrest warrant for his sister as part of the ongoing investigation.
The accusations are the latest to rock the country’s political establishment, which for three years has been roiled by an expanding universe of political scandals that have implicated most parties in wrongdoing.
Earlier this week, the former marketing guru of the Workers’ Party claimed he used a secret Gmail account to maintain a covert channel of communication with Ms Rousseff, whom he says was aware of the corrupt financing of her two successful election campaigns. She denies any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, investigators have published a photograph purporting to show Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the country residence which the former president denies belongs to his family. The property is at the centre of claims by prosecutors that Lula won personal favours from construction magnates for benefits they received during his administration.