Brazil plea-bargain testimony says president took $4.6 million in bribes

Sat May 20, 2017 8:15am GMT

By Brad Brooks and Lisandra Paraguassu

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's top court released plea-bargain testimony on Friday accusing President Michel Temer and his two predecessors of receiving millions of dollars in bribes, the most damaging development yet in a historic political corruption probe.

The testimony made public by the Supreme Court is from executives of the world's largest meatpacking company, and raises serious doubts about whether Temer can maintain his grip on the presidency.

The scandals that have engulfed Brazil's political class and many business elites reduce the chances that Temer, a conservative who took office after leftist former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached last year, can push through economic reforms crucial for Latin America's biggest country to recover from its worst recession on record.

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it approved an investigation of Temer for corruption and obstruction of justice. Calls for his resignation intensified, including an editorial in the O Globo newspaper, which is normally criticized by leftists for backing conservative politicians.

"This is easily the worst moment in Brazil since we returned to democracy," said Claudio Couto, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a top university, calling the claims "the mother of all plea bargains."

"This testimony is hitting everyone, all the major political players and, most importantly, a sitting president," he added.

The revelations came from testimony given by executives at JBS SA. Once a small meat producer, JBS grew exponentially during 13 years of government by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Rousseff's Workers Party, primarily through acquisitions funded by low-cost loans from Brazil's development bank.

The JBS executives said they made about 500 million reais (118.13 million pounds) in illegal payments to politicians and bureaucrats in recent years in exchange for winning contracts, getting easy credit from state-run banks and resolving tax and other disputes with the government.   Continued...

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Brazil's President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 18, 2017. The banner reads "Out Temer." REUTERS/Nacho Doce
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