Brazil’s President Michel Temer fought for his political life Friday after being accused of attempting to derail a massive corruption investigation known as “Car Wash.”
Temer and a senior senator, Aecio Neves, were among those “who attempted to prevent the Car Wash investigations from advancing,” Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot wrote in a court filing that was made public on Friday.
The accusation of wide scale obstruction of justice raised the stakes in a crisis threatening to topple Temer barely a year after the center-right politician took over from impeached leftist president Dilma Rousseff.
Temer was placed under investigation Thursday over a secretly recorded conversation with a business executive in which the president is purported to have given his blessing to monthly payments of hush money to a jailed politician.
That politician — former lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha — is in prison after being convicted of bribe-taking in a sprawling anti-corruption drive named operation “Car Wash.”
The investigation has upended Brazil with scores of politicians indicted or subject to probes into alleged bribe taking and embezzlement. And Cunha, formerly one of the most powerful insiders in Congress, has long been rumored to have threatened to spill secrets on other politicians to prosecutors.
Temer angrily denied any wrongdoing in a televised address Thursday and rebutted mounting calls for his resignation. He had not spoken in public Friday.
– Hunkered down –
The beleaguered president was holed up at the presidential palace with close aides, a government source, who asked not to be identified, told AFP.
“The government is working on three fronts to end the crisis: political, judicial and economic,” the source said.
According to the source, Temer was “angry” and had no intention of stepping down.
However, opponents piled on the pressure, with eight impeachment requests filed in Congress.
There are also calls for large-scale street protests to demand his resignation.
Temer’s conservative government has angered millions of Brazilians with its ambitious austerity reforms, which include the planned raising of the retirement age to fix the country’s unaffordable pension system.
Temer says the reforms are already helping to end a two-year recession, but with 13.7 percent unemployment many Brazilians do not feel the supposed improvements.
Temer is also loathed on the left for his role in the impeachment just a year ago of leftist president Dilma Rousseff. As her vice president, he immediately took over when she was pushed out.
On Thursday, thousands of people demonstrated against Temer in the capital Brasilia and in Rio de Janeiro.
Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party planned nationwide protests on Sunday, with turnout likely proving an important barometer of the national mood.
Even a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa, called for Temer’s head.
“There is no other way out. Brazilians must mobilize, must take to the streets to forcefully demand the immediate resignation of Michel Temer,” he said on Twitter.
However, the Vem Pra Rua group which was active in bringing down Rousseff last year, abruptly cancelled plans for its own mass protests, saying there wasn’t enough time to plan security.
– Coalition in danger? –
Temer faces a perilous investigation in the Supreme Court. However, his more immediate danger is a collapse of his base in Congress, opening the way to impeachment.
“That’s why today the main question is to know whether the parties that form the government’s base will leave,” said Thomaz Pereira, a constitutional law professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio.
So far only one minister, the culture secretary, has quit, but several others have been rumored to have one foot out of the door. Folha newspaper referred to “a climate of confusion.”
Temer’s PMDB party is the biggest in Congress but the key to his coalition is the center-right PSDB Social Democrats. They have given mixed signals, but so far are staying in the government.
“Our ministers continue to work and we will not take any action with regard to their staying in the government before we have a conversation with President Temer,” the party’s Senate leader, Paulo Bauer, told Globo.
Ironically, the legislature that now holds Temer’s fate in its hands is itself riddled with corruption scandals.
Some two-thirds of lawmakers have had brushes with the law at some point. And a third of the Senate is currently being probed in the “Operation Car Wash” investigation that has uncovered massive bribery and embezzlement in Brazil’s elite — with Temer’s probe being just the latest offshoot.