Brazil's ex-president Michel Temer was the leader of a "criminal organisation" involved in embezzlement and money laundering, a federal prosecutor alleged Thursday, after the former head of state was arrested as part of a sprawling anti-corruption probe.
Police detained Temer, the controversial 78-year-old predecessor of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, in São Paulo -- the latest ex-leader of the Latin American country to be caught up in the so-called Operation 'Lava Jato' ("Car Wash") investigation that has claimed dozens of political and corporate scalps.
The investigation into Temer had uncovered "the existence of a criminal organisation in full operation, involved in concrete acts of clear gravity," the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.
Former mines and energy minister Moreira Franco was also arrested along with several others.
Temer, Brazil's most unpopular leader ever, faced several corruption accusations on leaving office last year.
He escaped action over two allegations in 2017 when Brazil's Congress voted to dismiss them, cementing his reputation as the ultimate survivor in one of the world's messiest and scandal-ridden democracies.
A third accusation was filed days before Bolsonaro's mandate started on January 1, leaving Congress no time to evaluate the charge.
The accusations in the federal prosecutor's statement on Thursday include illicit payments made in connection with the construction of a nuclear power plant.
Launched in 2014, the Lava Jato investigation uncovered a vast graft operation involving state oil firm Petrobras and major construction companies and bribes to politicians of several parties.
The scale of the corruption uncovered stunned Brazilians, who have grown weary of graft among their leaders. Many analysts believe that sentiment helped Bolsonaro win the presidency.
Live coverage of arrests
Temer is just the latest former president caught up in the probe that has rocked Brazil's business and political elites.
The Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMBD) politician took over as a caretaker figure after the last Workers' Party (PT) president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and removed from office in 2016, accused of cooking the government's books.
While Rousseff was not directly implicated in the Lava Jato scandal, she was damaged by association having chaired the board at Petrobras between 2003-2010, when much of the alleged corruption was flourishing.
Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is serving a lengthy jail term after being found guilty in two corruption cases.
Far-right leader Bolsonaro campaigned on a hard line against corruption and crime and his victory in October's election was in part attributed to the Car Wash investigation. Temer did not contest the ballot.
The probe was originally overseen by Brazil's current justice minister, former judge Sergio Moro, who jailed Lula. He has been replaced by Gabriela Hardt.
Local TV channels broadcast live coverage of the latest arrests – much to the delight of many viewers.
As president, Temer was deeply unpopular among ordinary Brazilians. Whenever he spoke on television, horn honking and pot banging could be heard in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
He was booed loudly at Maracanã stadium when he opened the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.