BRASILIA — Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer was under pressure on Monday to drop his anti-corruption minister, the second top official in his new government accused of trying to derail a sprawling bribery and kickback probe before taking office.
Transparency Minister Fabiano Silveira, the man charged with fighting corruption, and Senate President Renan Calheiros became the latest officials ensnared by leaked recordings secretly made by a former oil industry executive as part of a plea bargain.
Those tapes led to the resignation of the planning minister last week, dealing a blow to Temer’s efforts to build a stable government in the wake of the May 12 suspension of leftist President Dilma Rousseff.
In parts of the recordings, aired by Globo TV on Sunday night, Silveira criticizes prosecutors in the probe focused on state-run oil company Petrobras, which has already implicated dozens of politicians and led to the imprisonment of top executives.
In the conversation, recorded at Calheiros’ home three months before Silveira became transparency minister, Silveira advises the Senate leader on how best to defend himself from the probe.
The former head of the transportation arm of Petrobras, Sergio Machado, who is under investigation as part of the graft probe and has turned state’s witness, recorded the meeting, along with conversations with other politicians, to obtain leniency from prosecutors.
Silveira was a counselor on the National Justice Counsel, a judicial watchdog agency, at the time of the meeting.
In its report, Globo TV also said some audio indicated that Silveira on several occasions spoke with prosecutors in charge of the Petrobras case to find out what information they might have on Calheiros, which he reported back to the Senate leader.
Silveira is also heard saying prosecutors were “totally lost.”
A spokesman for Silveira confirmed the conversation took place but said the excerpts were taken out of context.
“Temer’s initial decision was that Silveira can continue in his post for now because he did not interfere in the investigation, he was just giving Calheiros advice,” the spokesman said. He said Silveira was meeting his lawyers.
Employees at the transparency ministry prevented Silveira from entering the building on Monday and called for his resignation. They also washed the building’s facade with soap and water to symbolize Temer’s need to clean up his government.
Temer, a centrist who was Rousseff’s vice president, will meet with Brazil’s prosecutor general later on Monday to discuss the leaked recordings. A government source said that Silveira will stay in his role despite the leaked audio.
Several members of Temer’s cabinet are under investigation in the Petrobras probe. Rousseff, facing an impeachment trial in the Senate on charges of breaking budget laws, and others have said Temer plotted her downfall to stifle the investigation.
Temer strongly denies the allegation.
But the recordings add weight to the argument that the new government is illegitimate and may undercut support for Rousseff’s ouster in the Senate, which needs a two-thirds majority to convict her in a trial expected to last through August.
Last week, one of Temer’s most important confidants, Senator Romero Juca, was forced from his new role as planning minister after a leaked audio, also recorded by Machado before Rousseff’s suspension, revealed him suggesting a pact made across party lines for politicians to weaken the investigation.
The two-year probe into billions in graft at Petrobras has led to jail for executives from Brazil’s top construction firms and investigations of dozens of politicians, including several members of Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, and Rousseff’s Workers Party.
Temer had been Rousseff’s vice president since she took office in 2011, and the PMDB was the strongest coalition partner for the Workers Party since 2006, when former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was in power.