SAO PAULO – Brazil’s Supreme Court on Thursday authorized an investigation into allegations the nation’s head of state encouraged the payment of bribes to buy the silence of a former top lawmaker convicted earlier this year of graft.
Justice Edson Fachin, who is overseeing cases in the high court related to the sprawling Petrobras corruption investigation, approved the probe into President Michel Temer.
This latest development follows explosive allegations against the president that were reported in the media late Wednesday and caused stock prices to plunge – and even trading to be temporarily halted – Thursday on the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange.
Leading daily O Globo said the chairman of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS, Joesley Batista, told prosecutors as part of plea-bargain testimony in a corruption case that he had secretly recorded a conversation with Temer about hush-money payments to Eduardo Cunha, a former speaker of Brazil’s lower house and close ally of Temer.
Cunha was convicted in March of receiving bribes in connection with a petroleum contract Brazilian state oil company Petrobras signed in the African nation of Benin, as well as money laundering and other crimes, and sentenced to 15 years and four months in prison.
Along with Cunha, dozens of high-profile politicians and company executives also have been ensnared in a massive bribes-for-inflated-contracts scandal centered on Petrobras.
Batista told Temer in the recorded conversation in March in Brasilia that payments were being made to Cunha, according to O Globo’s report, which said the president’s response was that they needed to continue.
Temer’s legal troubles are the latest development in the Petrobras investigation, which is known as Car Wash. A former Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, faces several corruption trials related to the probe, including one in which he is accused of being the “chief commander” of the massive graft scheme.
Cunha was the driving force behind last year’s legislative effort that led to the ouster from office of Lula’s protege and successor, Dilma Rousseff, for violating budget laws. She was replaced by Temer, who had been her vice president.
Temer on Thursday vehemently rejected calls for him to resign from both the opposition and members of his own ruling coalition.
“I won’t resign. I repeat. I won’t resign, and I demand that everything be fully cleared up,” the head of state said in a message to the nation from the Planalto presidential palace.
Like Temer, Lula also has steadfastly maintained his innocence.