BRASILIA – An owner of Brazil-based global meatpacking giant JBS told prosecutors that that group had paid bribes to Brazilian President Michel Temer since 2010, according to documents released Friday by the nation’s highest court.
Joesley Batista made the confession as part of plea-bargain testimony related to the scandal surrounding JBS, which has been investigated for alleged bribes paid to meat inspectors and purportedly irregular loans from state development bank BNDES to its holding company, J&F Investimentos.
The new documents further ratchet up pressure on Temer, who was rocked earlier this week by allegations he encouraged the payment of hush money to a former top lawmaker – and potential government witness – convicted earlier this year of graft.
Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin, who is overseeing cases related to the investigation of a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras, on Thursday approved an investigation into Temer based on the totality of Batista’s confession.
The most explosive evidence are audio tapes, which Batista secretly recorded during a meeting with the president in Brasilia in March.
On the tapes, the president can be heard apparently recommending that the JBS chairman maintain the flow of money to the former speaker of Brazil’s lower house, the imprisoned Eduardo Cunha, to buy his silence.
Cunha was convicted in March of offenses that included receiving bribes in connection with a contract Petrobras signed in the African nation of Benin.
On the tapes, released to the media, Batista says that he is looking to have his company receive favors from government ministries, that he is in contact with prosecutors who are informing him about investigations and that he is bribing Cunha to keep him from entering into a plea-bargain arrangement.
Temer, for his part, either murmurs apparent approval or simply listens without making any comment, behavior that legal analysts have interpreted as explicit support for the unlawful actions.
The tapes have led to calls for Temer’s resignation, even from within the ruling coalition his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) leads, while the documents released Friday by the Supreme Court could further damage the already highly unpopular president.
Temer could be removed from office by different means, including via an impeachment process or a separate one whereby the lower house votes to put him on trial before the Supreme Court.
In one document released Friday by the high court and catalogued as “Attachment 9,” Batista said that between 2010 and 2011 he made monthly payments of 100,000 reais ($29,500 at the current exchange rate) in exchange for “favors” from the Agriculture Ministry.
He also said he would provide evidence to back up the allegations.
The allegations of obstruction of justice against Temer caused Brazil’s stock market to tumble on Thursday, with some analysts saying the president’s woes would make it difficult to continue his austerity drive, including an overhaul of Brazil’s pension system.
Temer, who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and says he can guarantee the tapes provide no proof of guilt, took over the presidency last year when his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was forced to step aside and face an impeachment trial for allegedly violating budget laws.
Temer had been Rousseff’s vice president.
Rousseff, whose Workers’ Party (PT) had governed Brazil since 2003, was eventually ousted from office last year in what she termed a coup.
In the documents released by the Supreme Court, JBS executives also said they paid a total of $80 million to Rousseff and her political mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The plea-bargain testimony indicates the illegal payments were made to facilitate the company’s access to loans from BNDES that date back to 2005.
Lula, who already is facing five corruption trials, including ones related to the Petrobras scheme, has denied any wrongdoing and previously said that anyone who attacks the integrity of BNDES has no idea of the seriousness of that institution.