Many Brazilians are already looking ahead to the likelihood of a new government after two days of corruption allegations battered President Michel Temer and produced a stream of calls for him to quit despite his defiant vow to stay in office.
Temer’s administration, which came to power a year ago after a tough impeachment fight ousted President Dilma Rousseff, has withstood several scandals. But with Brazil’s currency and stocks gyrating amid the anxiety over the new political crisis, few believe it can remain standing after the latest charges against the 76-year-old career politician.
On Friday, documents released by Brazil’s highest court revealed that the nation’s top prosecutor is accusing Temer of corruption and obstruction of justice. That came a day after the influential newspaper O Globo reported that the president had been recorded approving the payment of hush money to a former lawmaker in jail for corruption.
The charges by Attorney General Rodrigo Janot were a major escalation in the threat to Temer’s presidency, and represented an extraordinary development in a three-year-old corruption probe that is upending politics and just about everything else in Latin America’s largest nation.
That wasn’t all: in a plea bargain released as part of the document dump by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Temer is accused of taking $1.5 million in bribes.
In another blow, the calls for Temer to resign were joined by O Globo, the flagship paper of Brazil’s biggest media company, which had been supporting the president’s legislative program to boost an economy mired in its worst recession in decades. The company generally wields enormous influence among Brazilians because of its popular soap operas and media dominance.
“The president has lost the moral, ethical, political and administrative conditions to continue governing Brazil,” O Globo said in an editorial.
The attorney general’s formal presentation of evidence against Temer worsened public anger triggered by O Globo’s report late Wednesday that a secretly made audio recording purportedly captured Temer endorsing the paying of bribes to ensure silence by the jailed ex-legislator.
Janot accused Temer and Sen. Aecio Neves of trying to derail the three-year-old “Car Wash” investigation into a huge kickback scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras via legislative means and by influencing police investigators.
Because the case involves a sitting president, the process is different than in any other kind of criminal case. With a formal investigation now opened, Janot’s next step will be to decide whether his case is strong enough to send for consideration by the Chamber of Deputies in Congress.
If at least two-thirds of the members of the lower house voted in favor, the case would be sent back to the top court, which would then decide whether to put Temer on trial. If the court decided to try Temer, he would be suspended from office for up to 180 days. A conviction would permanently remove him from office.
At least eight pieces of proposed legislation to impeach Temer have been submitted in Congress, and a stream of people from many walks of life has been calling for him to step down.
On Friday, former Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa added his voice to the anti-Temer tide, tweeting: “There is not another way out: Brazilians must organize, go to the streets and demand with strength the immediate resignation of Michel Temer.”
Temer spoke to the nation Thursday, denying he had ordered bribes for ex-Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha and vowing to stay in office. On Friday, his administration remained mostly mum, though it did begin questioning both the legality and content of the recording.
“President Michel Temer does not believe in the veracity of the declarations” in the recording, his office said.
The statement also noted the person who made the recording, JBS meat-packing company executive Joesley Batista, is under investigation himself, saying he was “taking advantage” of the situation. The recording was turned over to prosecutors as part of a Batista plea bargain.
The leaders of several political parties in Temer’s governing coalition planned to meet with their members Saturday in Brasilia. A loss of support for the coalition would weaken the president’s position even more.
Brazil’s bar association also called a meeting for Saturday afternoon to discuss Temer’s future. A year ago, the respected body filed a request for the impeachment of Rousseff, who was later ousted for illegally managing the federal budget.
“Society needs an answer to what is going on,” said Claudio Lamachia, head of the bar association.
Peter Prengaman on Twitter: twitter.com/peterprengaman
Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: twitter.com/MSavarese