Brazil's president says corruption charge is 'soap opera'


SAO PAULO - A day after Brazil's top prosecutor formally accused President Michel Temer of corruption in a scathing indictment, markets largely shrugged off the news Tuesday in a sign that the leader's departure may not be imminent.

In a fresh blow to the political stability in Brazil, which is going through its worst financial crisis, President Michel Temer has been charged over an alleged multi-million bribery scandal by the country's chief prosecutor. Traders expect Temer to garner the support of one-third of the lower house needed to block the trial, although some fear his backing may melt away if lawmakers are forced to vote several times to protect the unpopular president.

Temer's predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was removed from office almost a year ago after the Senate found her guilty of breaking budget laws and voted in favor of impeachment. Joesley Batista, one of the brothers who control JBS, recorded a conversation with Temer in March in which the president appears to condone bribing a potential witness.

Temer acted "in violation of his duties to the state and to society", Brazil's top prosecutor Janot wrote, citing "abundant" proof that the president received the bribe money. Because Brazil now has no vice president since Temer, previously the vice president, took over from ousted President Dilma Rousseff, it is unclear what would happen in such a situation.

During the speech, the President went as far as hinting that Janot may have benefited from JBS's plea-bargaining agreement and said the chief prosecutor's attitudes "open a very unsafe precedent in our law because it allows a wide range of conclusions about good and honest people".

This is the kind of publicity Temer does not want as he tries to pass crucial, albeit controversial, reform packages through Congress.

The president's battle for political survival now centres on Brazil's lower house of congress.

The Attorney-General says Temer received a 500,000 BRL kickback paid in a suitcase by JBS to former aide Rodrigo Rocha Loures; the president also accepted 38 million BRL of undue advantages in weekly installments. And Janot is considering other charges against Temer including obstruction of justice. House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, a Temer ally, would be president in the interim.

The presidency did not immediately comment on the prosecutor's charge but earlier on Monday a defiant Mr Temer told a gathering of business leaders: "Nothing will destroy us, neither me, nor our ministers". Over 90 governmental officials and their allies have been convicted on criminal wrongdoing in the recent past, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Temer's public support is very low, with violent demonstrations attended by thousands of protesters taking place all across Brazil. "In that case, there will be defections, and colleagues may start to move against Temer".