President Michel Temer called a corruption charge filed against him by Brazil's top prosecutor a “fiction” on Tuesday, as the nation faced deepening political turmoil under its first sitting head of state to be formally accused of a committing a crime.
Temer, who was charged Monday night with arranging to receive millions of dollars in bribes, said the move would have a negative impact on Brazil's economic recovery, possibly paralyzing efforts at reform.
The conservative leader said executives of the world's biggest meatpacker, JBS SA, who accused him in plea-bargain testimony of arranging to take 38 million reais ($11.4 million) in bribes in the coming months, did so only to escape jail for their own crimes.
Temer addresses nation
“I have been charged with taking bribes without ever having received a cent,” Temer said in a nationally televised speech. “I’ve never seen any of that money and I have never taken part in planning to commit any crimes.”
Under Brazilian law, now that top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has charged Temer, it is up to the House of Deputies to vote on whether or not to allow the Supreme Court to try the leader, who replaced impeached leftist President Dilma Rousseff just over a year ago.
Two-thirds of the lower house must vote against Temer for his trial to occur.
Temer's allies in the lower house say they have the votes needed to block the charge. But Janot is widely expected to level fresh charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice against Temer in the coming weeks, forcing lawmakers into multiple votes on a possible presidential trial.
Multiple votes a concern
Several top lawmakers allied with the ruling coalition have told Reuters they are concerned that multiple votes to protect a deeply unpopular leader could erode his support, eventually prying open the door to a trial.
If a case against Temer were taken up by the Supreme Court, the president would be removed from office for at least 180 days, leaving House speaker Rodrigo Maia to serve as the country's interim leader.
Temer, whose government has an approval rating in the single digits, has already resisted repeated opposition calls to resign. But if he were found guilty, Congress would then choose someone to lead the nation through the remainder of his term, which ends on Jan. 1, 2019.
The charge against Temer was widely expected and investors were calm on Tuesday. Brazil's benchmark Bovespa index was down 0.8 percent and the local currency slipped 0.6 percent in late afternoon trading.
Corruption found at all levels
Investigators have uncovered corruption at all levels of Brazil's political class and business elites in recent years.
Much of it centers on companies paying billions of dollars in bribes to politicians and executives at state-run enterprises in return for lucrative contracts.
Temer and one-third of his cabinet, as well as four former presidents and dozens of lawmakers are under investigation or already charged in the schemes. Over 90 people have been convicted.