Brazil’s president asks top court to suspend probe

Brazil’s political crisis took a bizarre turn on Saturday as the country’s president, Michel Temer, claimed that a secret tape that allegedly showed him endorsing bribe payments had been edited to frame him.

Mr Temer asked Brazil’s top court to shelve an investigation against him until it could be determined if the recording was “manipulated”.

“We are petitioning the Supreme Court to suspend the proposed investigation until the authenticity of the clandestine recording is verified,” Mr Temer said in a televised speech. “I will continue at the helm of the government,” he added, after blasting at Joesley Batista, of meat processor JBS, who handed the recording to authorities.

On Saturday Mr Temer, who denied wrongdoing, slammed Mr Batista for committing the “perfect crime”, speculating against currency and pocketing millions from the current crisis. Brazil’s securities regulator on Friday said it had launched fresh probes into suspicious trades made by JBS before markets were shaken by the revelations.

The president has been ensnared by an unabating political storm. On Friday the Supreme Court released plea-bargain testimony in which Rodrigo Janot, the chief public prosecutor, said Mr Temer may have helped obstruct a corruption probe and engaged in passive corruption.

JBS executives agreed to share with prosecutors everything they knew about corruption in Brazil in exchange for leniency. The plea bargain includes a conversation with Mr Batista in which Mr Temer allegedly endorsed the payment of hush money to buy a jailed former lawmaker’s silence.

Mr Temer, who came to power a year ago after an impeachment ousted the former president, Dilma Rousseff, has endured several scandals.

The latest allegations mark an earthshaking development in a three-year-old corruption probe known as Lava Jato, or Car Wash, which is upending politicians and businessmen. They are threatening to oust Mr Temer’s unpopular centre-right government, stalling reforms aimed at restoring Brazil’s benighted finances. 

The scandal has unleashed turmoil, sending protesters to the streets and sinking the real. Flagship newspaper O Globo said in an editorial: “The president has lost the moral, ethical, political and administrative conditions to continue governing Brazil.”

Opposition lawmakers have filed impeachment requests against Mr Temer amid widespread calls for fresh, direct elections, which would require a constitutional amendment. “It is the people on the street who will say what they want, and we want direct elections now,” said Thiago Pelúcio, a leftist activist.

For Thiago de Aragão, a director at the Brasília-based consultancy Arko Advice: “We are facing in Brazil a clash between the political world and the judicial world.”