Brazil: Corruption investigation net closes on president

Michel Temer’s cabinet chief steps aside on ‘health grounds’ after illicit fundraising claim

Brazil's president Michel Temer was dragged deeper into the Petrobras corruption scandal after one of his closest friends told prosecutors he acted as an "involuntary mule" in an alleged illicit campaign financing scheme.

José Yunes admitted to the country's chief federal prosecutor that he had received a package from a black market financier at the request of another of the president's allies, cabinet chief Eliseu Padilha. The money was sent by an executive of Petrobras' biggest contractor, construction giant Odebrecht.

After the revelation that Mr Yunes had talked to prosecutors, Mr Padilha announced on Friday that he would take a medical leave of absence. An ally of the president for decades and his most influential minister, Mr Padilha stepped aside claiming that he required an operation on his prostate.

Campaign financing

Mr Yunes’s testimony reinforces the plea-bargain testimony provided by Odebrecht executive Claudio Melo Filho in which he said the delivery was part of €3 million in illicit campaign financing Mr Temer requested from Odebrecht in 2014, when he was running for re-election as vice-president.


Last year Mr Temer was promoted to the presidency after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Seventy-seven Odebrecht executives have provided evidence to prosecutors of a massive bribery scheme that involved dozens of leading politicians from across Brazil's political spectrum.

Mr Melo Filho’s testimony alone mentions Mr Temer 44 times. After next week’s carnival celebrations he will be one of three Odebrecht executives questioned by Brazil’s electoral court which is investigating the Rousseff-Temer ticket in 2014’s elections.

If the court confirms the mounting evidence that their campaign was bankrolled with illicit funds from companies that maintained multibillion euro contracts with the state, Mr Temer risks being dismissed from office.

Minister resigns

In another blow earlier this week the president lost his foreign minister who resigned, also citing health grounds. José Serra had an operation on his back at the end of last year but this failed to resolve chronic pain that left him requiring injections in order to be able to travel.

Mr Serra also appears in the Odebrecht testimony. Executives reportedly told prosecutors they had paid €7 million into a Swiss bank account as an undeclared campaign contribution for his 2010 presidential election campaign, which he eventually lost to Ms Rousseff.

Since being sworn in as president last May, Mr Temer has been losing ministers at the rate of one a month, most in controversial circumstances.

His attempt to replace his last justice minister ran into problems this week when he controversially chose federal deputy Osmar Serraglio. Last year he sought to engineer an amnesty for Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house of congress who was central to the impeachment of Ms Rousseff.

Mr Cunha is currently in jail on corruption charges linked to Petrobras. Mr Temer, Mr Padilha, Ms Rousseff, Mr Serra and Mr Cunha all deny any wrongdoing.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America