Brazilian President Michel Temer faced new corruption accusations, but has since dismissed them as “fiction”, asserting his innocence against the allegations.
Brazil’s Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot on Monday night charged Temer with with arranging to receive millions of dollars in bribes. The president said that such a move would harm the country’s economic recovery and possibly paralyze efforts at reform.
The conservative leader said executives of the world’s biggest meatpacker, JBS SA , who accused him in plea-bargain testimony of arranging to take 38 million reais ($11.47 million) in bribes in the coming months, did so only to escape jail for their own crimes.
“I have been charged with taking bribes without ever having received a cent,” Temer said in a nationally televised speech. “I’ve never seen any of that money and I have never taken part in planning to commit any crimes.”
He added: “I tell you, my friends, without any fear of error, that this charge is a fiction.”
Relying on innuendo, Temer also implied that Janot himself might be involved in a kickback scheme. The president noted that a former aide to the prosecutor is making “millions” working with the law firm representing the company at the center of the accusations against Temer.
“Maybe the millions in fees received weren’t only for the trusted aide, but … I will not conjecture,” Temer said.
Janot’s office said in a statement that the former aide mentioned by Temer did not take part in the JBS plea bargain negotiations. It reaffirmed the top prosecutor’s “probity, transparency and responsibility in his dealings in the public sphere.”
Under Brazilian law, now that Janot has charged Temer, it is up to the House of Deputies to vote on whether or not to allow the Supreme Court to try the leader, who replaced impeached leftist President Dilma Rousseff last year.
Two-thirds of the lower house must vote against him for his trial to occur.
His allies in the lower house say they have the votes needed to block the charge. But Janot is widely expected to level fresh charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice against Temer in the coming weeks, forcing lawmakers into multiple votes on a possible presidential trial.
Even for Brazilians virtually inured to revelations of corruption among their politicians, the accusations against Temer were shocking, allegedly occurring just this year, three years into the largest corruption investigation the country’s history, known as Operation Car Wash.
If the president is shown to have solicited bribes at the same time that the judiciary was jailing politicians nearly every week, it would reveal incredible audacity and dash hopes that the Car Wash probe would put fear into Brazil’s leaders and put an end to a culture of corruption.
Several top lawmakers allied with the ruling coalition have told Reuters they are concerned that multiple votes to protect a deeply unpopular leader could erode his support, eventually prying open the door to a trial. A full house vote on the first charge is expected to take place in about a month.
Key to Temer’s survival is whether the Social Democracy Party (PSDB), Brazil’s third largest, will stick with his coalition or bolt. The party is deeply divided, with many members wanting to distance themselves from Temer to improve their re-election chances next year.
PSDB deputy Caio Narcio said political stability and turning around the economy were more important than removing Temer, and that he could not turn his back on the country at this critical moment.
But PSDB deputy Daniel Coelho said many of the PSDB’s 54 deputies could vote against Temer.
If a case against Temer were taken up by the Supreme Court, the president would be removed from office for at least 180 days, leaving House speaker Rodrigo Maia to serve as the country’s interim leader.
Many observers think Congress won’t force him out.
“Several senators and deputies are in the same boat as he is, being accused in the same way, and are trying — in a drowning embrace — to hold onto each other to protect themselves, to avoid prosecutions,” said Sonia Fleury, a political science professor at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas University in Rio de Janeiro.
If found guilty, Temer would face a $3 million fine and two to 12 years in prison.
Temer, whose government has an approval rating in the single digits and the worst since 1989, has already resisted repeated opposition calls to resign. But if he were found guilty, Congress would then choose someone to lead the nation through the remainder of his term, which ends on January 1, 2019.
The president and one-third of his cabinet, as well as four former presidents and dozens of lawmakers are under investigation or already charged in the schemes. Over 90 people have been convicted.