Brazil Opposition Calls for President to Resign After Bribery Allegation

Brazilian opposition lawmakers called on President Michel Temer to resign after a Brazilian newspaper reported Wednesday that Mr. Temer encouraged a top businessman to buy the silence of a jailed former congressional leader.

The report threatened to spark a new bout of political turmoil, just a little more than a year after Mr. Temer, at the time Brazil’s vice president, took office amid impeachment proceedings against former President Dilma Rousseff.

According to Rio de Janeiro-based daily O Globo, Joesley Batista, chairman of meatpacking giant JBS SA, recorded a conversation in March in which he told Mr. Temer that he was regularly paying former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha to remain silent from his jail cell.

Mr. Temer, the paper reported, replied: “You have to maintain that, alright?”

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t independently verify the report or immediately obtain a copy of the recording. According to O Globo, the recording was submitted to Brazil’s Supreme Court as part of a cooperation agreement between Mr. Batista and federal prosecutors. The Supreme Court didn’t confirm or deny the existence of the recordings or of a plea deal.

In a brief, emailed statement, Mr. Temer’s office said the president “never requested payments to obtain the silence” of Mr. Cunha.

“He didn’t participate in or even authorize any movement [of funds] with the objective of preventing the ex-congressman from plea-bargaining or collaborating with [prosecutors],” the statement said.

Mr. Batista declined to comment.

A lawyer for Mr. Cunha, who was sentenced in March to more than 15 years in prison on corruption charges, declined to comment.

The Supreme Court didn’t confirm or deny the existence of the recordings or of a plea deal.

According to O Globo, Mr. Batista told prosecutors that Mr. Temer had full knowledge of the money being paid to Mr. Cunha, though it wasn’t the president who ordered it.

Opposition legislators used O Globo’s report to call for the president’s impeachment.

“This government has to fall now,” Sen. Lindbergh Farias, of Ms. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, said in a video on his Facebook page, urging Mr. Temer to resign. “We’re meeting here with our legal advisers to prepare articles of impeachment.”

Investors, meanwhile were bracing for a potentially tumultuous day in Brazilian markets. Despite his roughly 10% approval ratings in opinion polls, Mr. Temer has been widely praised by investors and businesspeople for seeking to push major economic changes through Congress.

Demonstrators protested against Brazilian President Michel Temer outside the Planalto Palace in Brasília on Wednesday.

Demonstrators protested against Brazilian President Michel Temer outside the Planalto Palace in Brasília on Wednesday. PHOTO: EVARISTO SA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“If confirmed, the recordings would further delegitimize the Temer administration in the eyes of public opinion, and that process would inevitably result in loss of political support in Congress,” said Thomaz Favaro, an analyst at political risk consultancy Control Risks. “In this scenario, the government’s reform agenda would undoubtedly be impacted.”

As speaker of the lower house of Congress, Mr. Cunha was regarded as one of Brazil’s most powerful and feared politicians for the secrets he was rumored to hold about a vast array of his colleagues. The possibility that Mr. Cunha could hand those secrets over to authorities in exchange for a lighter sentence, as scores of other high-level politicians and businessmen have, has long been a source of anxiety among the political class.

Mr. Batista made the recording during a meeting with Mr. Temer at his residence in Brasília the night of March 7 and delivered the tapes to Brazil’s Supreme Court last Wednesday, according to O Globo. He told prosecutors that he had paid a total of 5 million Brazilian reais ($1.6 million) to Mr. Cunha since the latter’s arrest last October, the paper reported.

The decision of whether or not to accept the plea bargain now falls to Justice Edson Fachin, who is overseeing aspects of the so-called Car Wash investigation that deal with sitting politicians.

Appeared in the May. 18, 2017, print edition as ‘Report Ties Brazil President to Alleged Bribe.’

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