Brazil ex-president Michel Temer arrested in graft investigation

Judge describes as ‘convincing’ prosecutors’ case that Temer leads criminal organisation

 Brazil’s then President Michel Temer gives a speech in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, on December 21st last. Photograph:  Andres Cristaldo/EPA

Brazil’s then President Michel Temer gives a speech in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, on December 21st last. Photograph: Andres Cristaldo/EPA

 

Former Brazilian president Michel Temer was arrested on Thursday as part of the sprawling five-year Car Wash investigation into political corruption.

Mr Temer was picked up by federal police officers at his home in São Paulo less than three months after he handed over the presidential sash to his successor, far-right former army officer Jair Bolsonaro.

Also arrested as part of the operation was his former minister and political confidant Moreira Franco.

Requesting his detention, federal prosecutors said the 78-year-old former president “took advantage of political power to transform the most diverse arms of the Brazilian state into a machine for the collection of bribes”.

Federal judge Marcelo Bretas described prosecutors’ claim that Mr Temer “is the leader of a criminal organisation” as “convincing”. Following his arrest Mr Temer was to be transferred to Rio de Janeiro where Judge Bretas and the prosecutors building the case against him are based.

Contacted by a local journalist after police had arrived at his home, Mr Temer described his arrest as a “barbarity”.

He is being held over the alleged payment of a bribe by engineering company Engevix in 2014, when he was Brazil’s vice-president. The Engevix case was just one of five investigations into Mr Temer on his leaving office and was not considered the most threatening one being built against him.

With his detention Mr Temer becomes the second former president detained in the Car Wash probe after the imprisonment last year of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva following his conviction in a case involving a beachfront apartment. Lula has since been handed a second conviction in a subsequent case involving a country retreat.

Illicit schemes

Mr Temer assumed office after Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016. Technically she was ousted from office for breaking Brazil’s fiscal responsibility laws but a corruption scandal in state oil giant Petrobras laid the political ground for her removal.

The Petrobras investigation eventually grew into a multi-faceted investigation into myriad illicit schemes in which Brazil’s politicians colluded with businessmen to defraud taxpayers of billions of euro. The investigations have already led to the arrest and conviction of prominent business leaders as well as many in the top echelons of the country’s traditional political leadership.

Mr Temer came to power promising to implement an ambitious reform agenda.

But his plans were derailed after the release in May 2017 of a conversation with a businessman in which he approved of a plan to buy the silence of the jailed former speaker of the lower house of congress. He subsequently survived two votes in congress to suspend him from office but always faced the risk of arrest once he lost the immunity from prosecution that comes with office.

His arrest is the first major move by Car Wash prosecutors since a decision last week by Brazil’s supreme court to send many of the cases being built against politicians to Brazil’s ineffective electoral courts, a move that was widely seen as undermining the Car Wash probe.