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Brazil's president charged with obstruction of justice and leading a criminal group

Michel Temer was accused along with six of his heavyweight political allies of taking almost $190 million (€159 million) in kickbacks.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer smiles during a meeting with Brazilian businessmen and trade unions
Brazil’s President Michel Temer smiles during a meeting with Brazilian businessmen and trade unions
Image: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

BRAZIL’S CHIEF PROSECUTOR has charged President Michel Temer with obstruction of justice and leading a criminal group in the biggest climax yet to the country’s ever-growing corruption scandal.

The leader of Latin America’s biggest and richest country was accused along with six of his heavyweight political allies of taking almost $190 million (€159 million) in kickbacks.

In a statement, the office of Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot charged that Temer “acted as leader of a criminal organisation” comprising senior officials from his centre-right PMDB party. They allegedly took the kickbacks in exchange for contracts at public companies like oil giant Petrobras.

The alleged ring operated from May 2016, when Temer first took over from leftist president Dilma Rousseff following her impeachment, Janot’s office said.

The prosecutor’s office said Temer also obstructed justice by attempting to pay bribes to prevent businessman Lucio Funaro – an alleged middleman in the bribery – from testifying against him under a plea deal with prosecutors.

Brazil Corruption Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot attends during the launching of the campaign All Together Against Corruption in the auditorium of the National Council of the Public Ministry, in Brasilia, Brazil. Source: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Temer fired back soon after, calling Janot’s accusations “absurd” and accusing the prosecutor of “continuing his irresponsible conduct in order to mask his own mistakes”.

The criminal charges must be first accepted by the Supreme Court before being sent for debate in the lower house. If the house accepts the charges and a trial starts, Temer would be suspended for 180 days, pending the result.

However, the president is widely thought to have enough support in Congress to avoid being forced to trial, allowing him to finish his term at the end of 2018.

Janot had already charged Temer with bribe-taking in June but the lower house of the legislature voted overwhelmingly to throw out the charge, preventing him from being tried at the Supreme Court.

“The second round of corruption charges against President Michel Temer is likely to be handily rejected,” Eurasia Group said in an analysis note.

The charges are part of an onslaught by prosecutors against Brazil’s corruption-riddled elite in which dozens of politicians and executives have been convicted or are being charged in embezzlement and bribery schemes.

Meat baron key figure

The three year old corruption probe known as “Car Wash” has discovered that big companies systematically paid bribes to politicians and party campaign coffers.

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Former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a fierce opponent of Temer, has already been convicted in one corruption trial and faces five more.

Brazil Corruption Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks to supporters after giving his testimony to a federal judge overseeing a bribery investigation in Curitiba, Brazil. Source: Denis Ferreira

Temer’s rightwing allies are faring no better. About a third of his cabinet is being probed.

There has been even greater urgency in recent days as the hard-hitting Janot winds down his term as chief prosecutor, with his last day at work Sunday.

Just yesterday, police raided the home of wealthy Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who is accused of obstructing justice, and a day earlier they arrested Wesley Batista, CEO of the world’s biggest meatpacker, JBS.

In a last-ditch bid to stop Janot, Temer’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court to have him taken off the case for alleged bias, but on Wednesday the court ruled 9-0 to keep the prosecutor.

© – AFP 2017

Read: Brazil investigates alleged massacre of Amazonian tribe by gold prospectors

Read: Brazil’s president has been charged with bribery in the ‘car wash’ scandal

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