Brazil’s chief prosecutor on Thursday charged President Michel Temer with obstruction of justice and leading a criminal group.
Temer was accused along with six heavyweight political allies, a statement from Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot’s office said. However, the president is widely thought to have enough support in Congress to avoid being forced to face trial. Janot had already charged Temer with bribe-taking in June but the Lower House of the legislature threw out the charge, preventing him from being tried by the Supreme Court.
Janot’s statement said Temer “acted as leader of a criminal organisation” comprising senior officials from his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), who allegedly took kickbacks for contracts at public companies like oil giant Petrobras.
The alleged corruption ring operated from May 2016, when Temer first took over from president Dilma Rousseff following her impeachment, Janot said. The prosecutor’s office said Temer also obstructed justice by attempting to pay bribes to prevent businessman Lucio Funaro from testifying against him under a plea deal with prosecutors.
The criminal charges must be first accepted by the Supreme Court before being sent for debate in the Lower House. If the house accepts the charges and a trial starts, Temer would be suspended for 180 days, pending the result.
The charges are part of an onslaught by prosecutors against Brazil’s elite in which tens of politicians and executives have been convicted or charged with embezzlement and bribery.
Brazilian police raided the house of Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi in a corruption probe Thursday morning, adding yet more pressure on the scandal-plagued government. Federal police said in a statement that authorities were searching 64 addresses in the capital Brasilia, São Paulo and the state of Mato Grosso. They did not name the people being targeted. Major Brazilian news sites said the principal suspect was Maggi, Temer’s agriculture chief, a farming tycoon and a former governor of Mato Grosso.
Lula in court. Former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva underwent a new grilling Wednesday by the country’s chief anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro, in a case that could decide whether Lula can return to power. Moro spent more than two hours questioning Lula in the southern city of Curitiba about alleged bribe taking from the scandal-plagued Odebrecht construction giant.
Lula, a frontrunner in the October 2018 presidential election despite multiple corruption charges, was as combative as ever, calling himself the victim of a “witch-hunt.”
In July, Moro sentenced Lula to almost 10 years in prison after being convicted in a sixth trial of receiving a seaside apartment from the OAS construction company in return for help obtaining lucrative contracts with Petrobras. Lula is free pending appeal.