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World

Brazil's President Says Corruption Charge is 'Fiction'

The prosecutors "created a soap opera plot," Temer said in a brief statement

Brazil's president Michel Temer makes a statement at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasília, Brazil, Thursday, May 18, 2017, photo: AP/Ricardo Botelho
3 weeks ago

SAO PAULO – Brazil’s president dismissed corruption allegations against him as a “soap opera plot” on Tuesday and cast doubt on the motivations of the country’s top prosecutor a day after he presented a scathing indictment.

President Michel Temer is fighting to hold onto his job after Attorney General Rodrigo Janot filed an indictment with the Supreme Federal Tribunal on Monday. The charge sheet accuses Temer of corruption for allegedly accepting bribes from an executive at a major meatpacker in exchange for help influencing the decisions of state bodies.

The prosecutors “created a soap opera plot,” Temer said in a brief statement to reporters and allies, his first comments since the charge sheet was presented. “I say without fear of being wrong that the accusation is fiction.”

He accused Janot of seeking “revenge, destruction and vengeance” with the indictment.

Even for Brazilians virtually inured to revelations of corruption among their politicians, the accusations against Temer were shocking; for one thing, the crimes the president is accused of happened just this year, three years into the country’s largest ever corruption investigation.

That the president might have been soliciting bribes at the same time that the judiciary was jailing politicians nearly every week spoke to incredible audacity and seemed to dash hopes that the Car Wash probe would put the fear into the country’s leaders and put an end to a culture of corruption.

While Temer may have already lost in the court of public opinion — his approval rating stands at 7 percent — his fate rests with the lower house of Congress, which now must decide whether the charges move forward. If two-thirds of that chamber votes to accept the indictment, then the president will be suspended for up to 180 days while a trial is conducted. House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, a Temer ally, would be president in the interim.

 

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 faces a $3 million fine and two to 12 years in prison.

Temer is also under investigation for obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy, and Janot is expected to file those charges in the coming days.

Janot’s indictment was widely expected and markets mostly met them with a shrug on Tuesday. The benchmark Bovespa fell 0.9 percent, while the Brazilian real currency was down about the same rate against the dollar.

But the accusations themselves have roiled Brazilian politics since the details that underpin them began to emerge last month, raising questions about whether Temer will finish out his term, which ends next year.

The indictment itself was blistering in its assessment of Temer, saying he showed a total disregard for his office and that his actions — including secret meetings not on his official calendar — showed he was trying to cover up “criminal actions.”

Temer has denied the allegations and said he will not resign, but will instead fight the charges.

In fact, the charges give Temer an incentive to hang on to office for as long as possible, according to Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at state University of Rio de Janeiro. As a sitting president, only the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court, can try or jail Temer.

If he leaves office, he would be tried in lower courts that may move faster and offer less deference.

“If Temer resigns this week, he could be in jail next week,” said Santoro.

Temer, who took over in May of last year after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and later removed from office, has the lowest approval rating of a president since 1989.

MAURICIO SAVARESE
SARAH DiLORENZO

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