President Temer of Brazil Faces New Corruption Charges

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President Michel Temer of Brazil was slapped with a second round of corruption charges on Thursday, further tarring his standing as he struggles to finish out his term and put in motion an ambitious package of economic reforms. During his final days on the job, Attorney General Rodrigo Janot charged Mr. Temer with obstruction of justice and with being part of a criminal conspiracy that involved a plot to prevent the authorities from learning about a wide-ranging kickback scheme.

Last month, Mr. Temer managed to avoid standing trial in a case based on the same investigation by persuading enough members of the lower House of Congress to block the charges from reaching the Supreme Court, the only court where sitting elected officials may be prosecuted.

The new charges cap an extraordinarily busy couple of weeks for Mr. Janot, whose term expires on Friday. He filed charges accusing Mr. Temer’s two predecessors, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of running a scheme that siphoned billions of dollars from Brazil’s treasury.

In the latest case against Mr. Temer, the lower house of Congress must once again vote on whether it should go to trial in the Supreme Court. While analysts believe that the president will avoid prosecution given Brazilians’ weariness of political upheaval, it is likely to come at a price and stand in the way of making headway on his reform agenda. He needs at least 172 of the 513 lawmakers to back him.

In June, Mr. Temer became Brazil’s first sitting president to face criminal charges when the attorney general charged him with accepting a $152,000 bribe. Last month, the lower house voted to spare Mr. Temer from standing trial in that case. In the weeks before the vote, Mr. Temer doled out millions of dollars in federal money to key congressional districts, in what some critics called an effort to sway lawmakers.

Mr. Temer has vehemently denied all allegations of wrongdoing and tried to have Mr. Janot removed from all cases related to him, arguing that the charges were politically motivated. This week, the Supreme Court denied the request.

Despite an approval rating in the single digits, Mr. Temer has rallied support among investors by portraying himself as the only leader capable of pulling Brazil out of the economic quagmire left by his predecessors from the leftist Workers’ Party. And while he has used up much of his political capital in Congress, a new twist in the investigation is expected to work in his favor.

Both the initial charges and this latest round are based on the testimony of top executives of the meat-processing giant JBS, Joesley Batista and his brother Wesley. As part of a plea bargain that enabled them to avoid prison, the brothers testified that Mr. Temer and several other politicians had accepted bribes.

As part of that case, Joesley Batista had secretly recorded a meeting Mr. Temer at his residence in Brasília. It was another recording, this one of Mr. Batista, that appeared to call into question the reliability of the witnesses.

In that recording, which surfaced last week and seemed to have been submitted to the authorities inadvertently, Joesley Batista suggests that he had improper contact with a former prosecutor from the attorney general’s office while he was seeking a plea deal.

After the new recording emerged, Mr. Janot revoked the immunity of Mr. Batista and the other person heard on the audio, Ricardo Saud, a former executive for J & F Investimentos, which controls JBS. On Sunday, they turned themselves in to the federal police. The two men are defendants in the latest case against Mr. Temer.

The recording reduces the “political punch” of the new charges, according to João Augusto de Castro Neves, the Latin America director at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting company, “reinforcing our view that Mr. Temer will have an easier time defeating the second motion against him.”

Source: nytimes.com

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