Brazil’s president Michel Temer charged with corruption

Further charges including obstruction of justice expected to follow this week

Brazil was plunged into a new constitutional crisis on Monday night when Michel Temer became the first serving president to be formally charged with committing a crime while in office.

Chief federal prosecutor Rodrigo Janot accused Mr Temer of "passive corruption" before the supreme court along with his former special adviser Rodrigo Rocha Loures, who in April was filmed by federal police receiving a suitcase with 500,000 reais (€135,000) in cash from a business executive.

Prosecutors claim the money was an instalment on a 38 million reais (€10 million) bribe for Mr Temer from billionaire businessman Joseley Batista, whose family company J&F controls JBS, the world's largest meat-packer. JBS is not associated in any way with the alleged bribery.

The charge against Mr Temer is based on testimony from Mr Batista and a number of his executives who are co-operating with prosecutors. If convicted Mr Temer could face up to 12 years in prison and a fine of 10 million reais (€2.7 million). He denies all accusations against him.

Monday’s charge is expected to be followed by others this week including one of obstruction of justice, based on a secret recording Mr Batista made of a clandestine late-night meeting with the president in March in which he detailed efforts to block investigations into his companies’ affairs.

Mr Temer did not report the details of the scheme outlined by the businessman to law enforcement authorities under his command. When Mr Batista related the problems his companies were facing Mr Temer appears to tell him to seek out Mr Rocha Loures.

The presidency did not immediately comment on the prosecutor’s charge but earlier on Monday a defiant Mr Temer told a gathering of business leaders: “Nothing will destroy us, neither me, nor our ministers”.

Corruption claims

The president’s battle for political survival now centres on Brazil’s lower house of congress. It must authorise by a two-thirds majority to allow the charge laid out by Mr Janot to be taken up the supreme court.

If Mr Temer can muster a blocking third of the chamber the charge is parked until after he leaves power. But if 342 of the 513 deputies vote to pass it on to the supreme court he is automatically suspended from office for 180 days while the court tries the case.

In such a scenario the speaker of the lower house Rodrigo Maia would take over as acting president. If Mr Temer is convicted the congress will elect a new president to finish his term which runs until the end of next year.

Last month the president could count on the support of around 400 deputies in the chamber but this base has been eroded by the constant stream of corruption claims made against him and this month he suffered a damaging defeat due to defections.

With a general election due next year and Mr Temer’s approval rating at seven per cent analysts say many deputies will be reluctant to be seen to publicly protect the man who is officially the country’s least popular president since polling began.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

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