Brazilian police announced on Saturday the arrest of a close aide of President Michel Temer in the latest development in the corruption scandal that has rocked the country and threatened to impeach the head of state.
Former MP Rodrigo Rocha Loures, a close aide and friend of Temer, was detained at his home, a federal police spokesman said.
In a police video released on May 19, Loures was seen running out of a Sao Paulo restaurant carrying a bag with 500,000 reais ($154,000) in cash that prosecutors say was a bribe from the owners of the world’s largest meatpacker, JBS SA.
Plea-bargain testimony by two executives of JBS’s holding company J&F Investimentos SA implicated Temer and other politicians in graft and led prosecutors to accuse Loures of being a middleman for Temer, which the president has denied.
Temer’s office had no immediate comment on the arrest of his former aide.
The Supreme Court authorized the investigation of Temer and Rocha Loures for corruption, criminal organization and obstruction of justice, triggering the worst political crisis since Temer took over from impeached leftist Dilma Rousseff last year.
Since the leaking of a recording of a late-night conversation with a JBS executive in which Temer appeared to condone corrupt practices, the president has faced calls for his resignation or impeachment.
An electoral court investigation of possible illegal campaign funding in Temer’s 2014 election as vice president could also oust him from office.
Loures, a businessman-turned-politician, could seek a plea bargain, some sources in the prosecution team told Reuters this week. That could damage the president’s case that he did nothing illegal.
Temer next week faces a court ruling on whether he should even be president.
The case in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal or TSE was long considered a slow-burning sideshow to the manic developments in Brazil’s corruption revelations, which have now reached the top.
The TSE case alleges that the reelection victory in 2014 of Rousseff and her then vice president Temer was fatally tainted by illegal campaign funds and other irregularities and therefore should be annulled.
In other words, if the TSE — due to hold four sessions between late Tuesday and Thursday — rules against Rousseff and Temer, his mandate could be ended.
Until recently the trial was seen as somewhat obscure, with a result at worst leading to a conviction of Rousseff while letting off Temer.
“There is strong and very serious proof,” prosecutor Silvana Batini told AFP in an interview.
Like many others, he suggested that using the TSE to push Temer aside would be the least traumatic way to end the scandal created by the corruption allegations. That’s because despite calls for his resignation, Temer is vowing to fight on, while an impeachment procedure in Congress would take months to complete.
The TSE is “a possible alternative for a legitimate, calm exit,” Batini said.
All eyes are now on the court, given that a guilty verdict that included Temer would leave him hanging by the thinnest of threads.
The president would be able to appeal before the TSE itself and before the Supreme Court. However, the TSE would first have to decide whether he was allowed to remain in office during that period — or be suspended immediately.
Should he be definitively removed from office, Brazil’s Congress, which is likewise mired in corruption scandals, would choose an interim president to serve the rest of Temer’s term until the end of 2018.
Temer, a conservative, only took over last year after the leftist Rousseff was impeached for breaking budgetary rules.
He has proved adept so far at trying to stave off the corruption scandal, which centers on a secret audio recording in which he is heard allegedly blessing the hush money deal.