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Allegations against Temer could be part of ongoing investigation into whether bribe money helped fund 2014 campaign to re-elect Dilma Rousseff
Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, is facing allegations that he solicited £2.3m ($2.9m) in illegal campaign donations in 2014, further weakening the position of a deeply unpopular leader. In a poll published Sunday but carried out before the new accusations surfaced, 63% of Brazilians said they wanted Temer to resign for new elections.
A judge on Brazil’s highest electoral court told the Guardian that the accusations – which Temer denies – could form part of an ongoing investigation into whether bribe money helped fund the 2014 campaign that saw Dilma Rousseff re-elected president with Temer as her running mate. That could even lead to him losing his mandate.
Temer took over as president earlier this year after Rousseff was ousted in a controversial impeachment process she and her leftist Workers’ Party denounced as an institutional “coup d’etat”. Corruption allegations have dogged his government ever since.
With Brazil’s economy mired in deep recession and stubbornly refusing to improve as Temer promised, some even questioned whether he will be able to survive until the end of his mandate in 2018.
“Impeachment did not end the political crisis,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist and professor of international relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “The current president probably won’t finish his mandate.”
Others said lawmakers may try to protect Temer because his removal would worsen Brazil’s deepening political chaos.
“A lot of the parties might come to the conclusion that it’s bad enough already, let’s not make it worse. Let’s muddle through with him,” said David Fleischer, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Brasília.
The Guardian has seen a copy of the 82-page plea bargain from Claudio Melo Filho, former director of institutional relations at construction giant Odebrecht.
The company is deeply embroiled in a multi-billion dollar graft scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras in which dozens of politicians, executives and middle men have been jailed. Its former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht has been in prison since June 2015 in connection with the investigation.
The scandal was a major driver in Rousseff’s impeachment, although she was ousted for breaking budget laws and has not been personally implicated.
Filho is reported to be just one of 77 Odebrecht executives to have signed collaboration deals. Widely leaked to Brazilian media over the weekend, Filho’s allegations have had an explosive impact in Brazil.
“We are in front of a tsunami of unprecedented proportions, with the potential to sweep out the principal parties and pre-candidates for the presidency in 2018 (when new elections are due),” columnist Bernardo Mellho Franco wrote in the Folha de S Paulo newspaper on Sunday.
In the plea bargain, Filho alleged in colourful detail how leading lawmakers from Temer’s and other parties across the political spectrum were paid millions in bribes and both legal and illegal campaign donations to defend the company’s interest in Congress. Temer is mentioned 43 times.
Temer and the other politicians named have denied Filho’s allegations. In a statement, Temer said Odebrecht made voluntary donations without receiving anything in return.
“The president repudiates the false information,” the statement said.
Filho claimed he had attended a dinner with Marcelo Odebrecht at the vice-presidential palace months before the 2014 elections during which he said Temer solicited financial support for his party’s campaigns. A figure of £2.3m was agreed, Filho claimed, some of which he said was later paid in cash to a São Paulo lawyer, friend and special aide of Temer’s called José Yunes, he said. Yunes has denied the claim.
Filha also said that over a number of years, £5m ($6.35m) was paid Senator Romero Jucá, who quit as Temer’s planning minister in May after wiretaps revealed him plotting to obstruct the Petrobras investigation. Filha said that senate president Renan Calheiros is also received £118,000 ($149,766) in two 2010 payments alone.
Calheiros was a target for anti-corruption protestors on 4 December after Brazil’s supreme court accepted charges of embezzlement against him in a separate case.
When a supreme court judge ordered Calheiros be suspended from his Senate role the following day, Calheiros simply ignored the order. Two days later the court controversially overturned the decision but ruled Calheiros could no longer stand in for the president.
He is also being investigated in the Petrobras probe. On Monday Brazil’s prosecutor-general, Rodrigo Janot, presented new charges of money laundering and passive corruption against Calheiros and lawmaker Aníbal Gomes for allegedly receiving £188,000 in bribes from a supplier company involved in the Petrobras scandal.
Because Brazil has no vice president, Calheiros is third in line after Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the lower house. But Maia is also cited in the plea bargain – Melo Filho said he paid Maia nearly £24,000 ($30,460) in 2013. This means that the three men in line of succession to rule Brazil have all been cited, heightening the sense of political insecurity. But the accusation could be included in an ongoing investigation at Brazil’s highest electoral court into whether bribe money helped fund Rousseff and Temer’s winning 2014 re-election campaign.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a judge on Brazil’s supreme electoral tribunal said the accusations could and may well be included in a decision that could see both mandates revoked. A ruling is likely in the first half of next year.
So many politicians from all parties have been accused of graft that it is unclear who might take over if Temer does fall. If he were to fall after the end of this year, an indirect election is held in Congress.
“When we have a wave like this hitting all politicians and moderates, it opens space for the extremists,” said Santoro. “It’s a very serious moment.”