Brazil’s President Response to Hush Money Accusation: I Repeat, I Will Not Resign

Temer talks to the Nation - Beto Barata/PR

Brazilian President, Michel Temer, said this Thursday he will not resign, after an explosive wiretap revealed that he had endorsed bribes to a powerful witness in order to keep him from speaking out on government corruption.

In his brief address, Temer called for a thorough investigation into the case.

“I repeat: I will not resign,” he said, speaking in Brazilian capital Brasília. “I know what I did and I know I was right. I demand an immediate investigation.”

Earlier on Thursday, the Federal Supreme Court approved an investigation into the president over the wiretap evidence, Brazil’s daily newspaper O Globo reported.

Temer’s comments came in response to a damning recording implicating him and other politicians in a corruption scheme that has served the heaviest blow to the scandal-plagued administration yet.

The tape, reported by O Globo Wednesday evening, revealed that Temer had given his blessing to hefty bribes in the name of keeping a key witness, Eduardo Cunha, quiet in the country’s largest-ever corruption investigations, known as Operation Car Wash.

Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house, the chief mastermind behind the parliamentary coup against former President Dilma Rousseff and an ally of the unelected president, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in March for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

Owners of the world’s largest meat processing company, JBS, recorded the tape at a March 7 meeting with Temer and other politicians as part of an attempt to secure a plea bargain deal with prosecutors.

The Supreme Court approved the plea bargain for Joesley and his brother Wesley Batista on Thursday, after the release of the content of the tape.

Ahead of Temer’s address just after 4:00 p.m. local time, four members of his cabinet — Minister of Defense Raul Jungmann, Minister of Culture Roberto Freire, Minister of Cities Bruno Araújo and Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes — said they planned to step down if Temer did not resign, Brazil’s newspaper Estadão reported.

Temer’s administration has been embroiled in corruption scandals since being installed in power last year, but the Batista tape is perhaps the strongest blow to the stability of the government yet, plunging the already highly unpopular executive deeper into crisis.

The news sparked calls for Temer’s impeachment, halted debate on controversial neoliberal reforms and raised serious questions about the ability of the government to survive until the 2018 presidential election.

An Earthquake

Brazil’s President Michel Temer faced calls for his removal after a newspaper reported that he had been recorded discussing payments of hush money to a corrupt politician. Temer immediately denied the report in O Globo newspaper.

According to the report, which could not be immediately verified, an executive from the meatpacking giant JBS, Joesley Batista, met with Temer on March 7. During the meeting, the report said, Batista recorded himself telling Temer that he was paying money to buy the silence of disgraced ex-speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha.

Cunha is in prison after having been found guilty of taking millions of dollars in bribes in Brazil’s giant Petrobras oil company embezzlement scandal. According to the account, Temer told Batista: “You need to keep doing that.”

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.

Temer took over last year after the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, a political earthquake to a large extent engineered by the then-powerful Cunha.

There were immediate demands late Wednesday from leftist opponents for Temer’s removal. The Workers’ Party issued a statement also naming five other parties that called for his resignation and snap elections.

Several hundred anti-Temer protesters gathered in São Paulo, while in the capital Brasília motorists honked horns and yelled “Temer out!”

Congressman Alessandro Molon, from the Rede party, filed a demand for impeachment with the speaker of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia.

Maia would have to accept the demand for proceedings to start, made no comment to reporters as he left for an emergency meeting with the government.

In São Paulo, Workers’ Party state lawmaker Beth Sahão said that the report confirmed what opponents had been waiting for: “Concrete evidence of corruption in the Temer government, but especially of the person of President Temer himself.”

The allegations in O Globo, which is part of the most powerful media group in Latin America’s biggest country, were a new shockwave from a corruption scandal tearing apart the country’s political elite.

Investigators mounting what’s called the “Car Wash” probe have uncovered gigantic corruption from Petrobras, with scores of politicians accused of taking bribes from executives in exchange for sweetheart contracts with the state-owned oil company.

Already a Who’s Who of the elite has been imprisoned or placed under investigation. The accusations against Temer are especially explosive as he has been in power barely a year since the bitter maneuvers to push Rousseff out of office.

She was found guilty by Congress of illegally manipulating the government’s accounts to mask the depth of a painful recession. On being stripped of the presidency her vice president, Temer automatically took over.

Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, accused Temer and Cunha, from the center-right PMDB party, of mounting a coup.

Temer quickly set about introducing market reforms to try to get Brazil’s floundering economy back on the rails. The new scandal could further undermine support in Congress for those reforms, particularly a push to raise the minimum age for retirement in an attempt to rework the costly pension system.

As to the Batista brothers, Joesley and Wesley, heirs of JBS, the world’s largest meat packing conglomerate with interests in Latin America, United States, Europe and Australia, they are also in deep water.

Their company, which was born out or a small butcher shop in the fifties, faces several investigations, not only the latest referred to “rotten meat”, bribing veterinary inspections, but also referred to loans from Brazil’s development bank, BNDES, and the management of the pension funds of their companies in Brazil, which justice forced them to step aside.

There is also a political ingredient, not only because of the Batista brothers generous handouts to the political system in exchange for different favors, but under ex president Lula da Silva, JBS turned into a world business player with the political and financial support from the government to become the huge world’s leading company in its sector.

Apparently the brothers reached an agreement with prosecutors which involved helping pin down Temer, and powerful coalition leader Aécio Neves, as part of a plea bargain.

More Details

Brazil’s Petrobras corruption and embezzlement scandal has enveloped the country’s political elite – across party lines.

Temer’s office has denied the allegations that he endorsed paying off a witness.

It released a statement saying the president had “never solicited payments to obtain the silence of former deputy Eduardo Cunha,” who in late March was sentenced to 15 years in jail for corruption.

Temer acknowledged Wednesday that on March 7 he was visited by Joesley Batista, an executive of the meat-packing giant JBS, but added that their conversation did not “compromise his conduct.”

O Globo claimed that Batista told Temer that he was paying money to Cunha to buy his silence. Temer then allegedly told Batista: “You need to keep that up, okay?”

Last year, Temer took over as president after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in a ruction attributed to the then-powerful Cunha.

Globo did not release the purported recording but said the information came from a plea bargain between prosecutors and JBS’ Batista.

The Workers’ Party named five other parties in a statement that called for Temer’s resignation and snap elections.

Last week, Temer marked his first year in office, expressing optimism about reforms planned for Brazil’s weak economy amid a slump in voter support.

The new scandal could further undermine support in Congress for austerity reforms, particularly a push to raise the minimum age for retirement in a bid to fix Brazil’s costly pension system.

A recent survey credited Temer with only 9 percent voter endorsement for performance – below Rousseff’s standing at the moment of her suspension for allegedly masking data on the depth of the country’s recession.

On Wednesday, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) said law changes intended by Temer’s government endangered a giant swathe of rain forest and opened up indigenous reservations to mining.

The WWF described the plan as an “offensive,” involving an area of about 80 thousand square kilometers, “almost the size of the territory of Portugal.”

On Tuesday, a congressional panel backed by Brazil’s powerful farm lobby called for the dismantling of the Indian affairs agency Funai.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on indigenous rights and environmental conservation in Brazil said removing the agency would leave Brazil’s indigenous tribes unprotected from an advancing agricultural frontier.

“The future will be for soy, corn and sugar cane,” said Workers Party lawmaker Nilto Tatto. “This is the same vision that wants to destroy the forests of Brazil.”

tS/MP/DW

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