RIO DE JANEIRO – A corruption scandal that has rocked Brazilian President Michel Temer’s administration in recent months took a new twist on Sunday with the arrest of a powerful businessman who had leveled the serious corruption accusations against him.
Supreme Court Justice Luiz Edson Fachin, who is overseeing the case, ordered on Saturday night the arrest of Joesley Batista, co-owner of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS and the source of the accusations that led to criminal charges being filed against Temer in late June.
Batista’s arrest was ordered for allegedly reneging on the terms of his plea-bargain deal.
Shortly after being informed of the decision, Batista voluntarily turned himself in at the headquarters of the Federal Police in Sao Paulo along with Ricardo Saud, another JBS executive whose arrest was also ordered. Both are expected to be jailed in Brasilia.
Fachin, who issued his ruling at the request of prosecutors, said there were indications that Batista had concealed the fact that he had received illegal assistance from a prosecutor in negotiating the plea deal.
As part of the deal, the former JBS chairman was spared prison time in return for fully informing authorities about the nearly 1,000 politicians – including Temer – who allegedly received bribes from Batista in exchange for political favors that would benefit his businesses in different ways.
The JBS executive said he had paid bribes to Temer since 2010 and continued to do so even after the latter became president last year.
As part of the plea deal, Batista and his brother and co-owner of JBS, Wesley Batista, handed prosecutors a secretly taped audio recording in which Temer appeared to say that bribes needed to continue to flow to former lower-house speaker Eduardo Cunha.
Cunha is one of the highest-profile politicians to be sentenced to prison in the sprawling Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation into a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated contracts scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Temer became the first sitting president in Brazilian history to face criminal charges, although his allies in the lower house of Congress voted to shelve those charges last month.
Even so, Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has said that before his tenure expires next Sunday, he will present new corruption charges against Temer.
It remains to be seen, however, how the new revelations against Joesley Batista will affect those plans, with Temer’s attorney, Antonio Claudio Mariz, saying Sunday that he would seek to have all the “supposed evidence” gathered against the president through testimony from the JBS owners disallowed, adding that it was legally invalid.
Janot, however, said the revision of Batista’s plea deal would not invalidate their accusations or the evidence he presented.