Brasília (AFP) – Brazil’s President Michel Temer faced growing pressure to resign on Thursday after allegations that he authorized paying hush money to a jailed politician in a scandal that sent markets tumbling.
As Temer huddled with ministers and prepared to make what was expected to be his first public reaction to the scandal, even allies questioned whether he could survive.
Temer is deeply unpopular around Brazil but has been able to rely on a solid alliance between his center-right PMDB party and the PSDB Social Democrats, along with a coalition of smaller parties, as he tries to push economic austerity reforms through Congress.
Less than 24 hours after O Globo newspaper’s explosive report that Temer had been caught on tape agreeing to bribery, he faced three formal requests for his impeachment.
More worryingly for the veteran politician, the PSDB appeared to be losing faith. “If the evidence is confirmed then we will ask our (ministers) to leave the government,” lower house deputy Ricardo Tripoli, a party leader, told AFP.
Senator Randolfe Rodrigues from the opposition Rede party promised demonstrations until Temer quits.
“Brazil has no government,” Rodrigues said.
Markets plummeted on opening as investors reacted to the crisis, as well as to turmoil around US President Donald Trump, with fears that even if Temer survives, his attempts to reform the country’s floundering economy are doomed.
The Sao Paulo stock market’s Bovespa index crashed more than 10 percent, triggering an automatic suspension of trading for 30 minutes.
- Secret recordings –
Temer, who took over after the impeachment last year of Dilma Rousseff, was reported late Wednesday by O Globo to have been secretly recorded agreeing to payments of hush money to Eduardo Cunha, the disgraced former speaker of the lower house of Congress.
According to the report — which Temer immediately denied in a written statement — the president discussed the matter with Joesley Batista, an executive from the meatpacking giant JBS, on March 7.
Batista told Temer that he was paying money to make sure that Cunha — thought to have encyclopedic knowledge of Brazil’s notoriously dirty political world — would keep quiet while serving his jail sentence for taking bribes.
According to the account, Temer told Batista: “You need to keep doing that, OK?”
Temer’s office issued a statement saying: “President Michel Temer never solicited payments to obtain the silence of former deputy Eduardo Cunha.”
Globo did not say how it got the information about the recording, which it said was offered in a plea bargain between Batista and his brother Wesley with prosecutors.
The columnist who reported the bombshell claims clarified on Thursday that he had not personally heard the recording, but that it was described to him “in the most detail possible.”
A separate secret recording made by Batista allegedly caught Senator Aecio Neves, head of the PSDB party and a close Temer ally, asking him for a bribe of two million reais, or around $600,000.
The Supreme Court suspended Neves. Officers could be seen entering Neves’ property in Rio de Janeiro and his sister Andrea was arrested in Belo Horizonte.
- ‘Car Wash’ –
The scandal is the latest shockwave from the “Car Wash” graft probe ripping through Brazilian politics.
Investigators have uncovered a massive scheme in which politicians took bribes in exchange for getting big businesses over-inflated contracts with state oil company Petrobras. The bribery and embezzlement then rippled far beyond, pulling in many of the country’s most famous executives and leaders.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a leftist icon for many in Latin America, faces five corruption trials, while a third of the Senate and a third of Temer’s own cabinet are under investigation.
Until now Temer has managed to stay above the fray.
Although alleged to have participated in large-scale bribery deals, he cannot be prosecuted for crimes prior to his mandate. The Globo revelations, if confirmed, would open him to prosecution.
Even before the latest crisis, Temer was mired in controversy.
Rousseff and her leftist allies accuse him of having engineered her impeachment and his own rise to power last year in what they say amounted to a coup d’etat.
Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, was found guilty by Congress of having illegally manipulated government accounts to hide the true extent of Brazil’s financial woes. However, many of her accusers in Congress — especially Cunha, who is also from the PMDB — faced their own ethical and legal problems.
<figure><figcaption>Brazilian president Michel Temer took over after the impeachment last year of Dilma Rousseff <span>Copyright AFP/File EVARISTO SA</span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/7b62caa742a423f449220bea649f48c6086bb7f3.jpg" width="768" height="512"><figcaption>Demonstrators protest against Brazilian President Michel Temer outside the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on May 17, 2017 <span>Copyright AFP/File EVARISTO SA</span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/561d1f2c8844f3272cefe7ac2e1098e41a9a9aae.jpg" width="768" height="512"><figcaption>Demonstrators protest against Brazilian President Michel Temer behind a banner reading "Coup-Plotter Temer Out!" in front of the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on May 17, 2017 <span>Copyright AFP EVARISTO SA</span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/abd752fe375304f6ed5e0093b1a4a9112a7fba77.jpg" width="768" height="489"><figcaption>Brazilian president Michel Temer takes part in the "A Year of Achievements" meeting in celebration of the first year of his presidential term, at the Palacio do Planalto in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 12, 2017 <span>Copyright AFP/File EVARISTO SA</span> </figcaption></figure>