Brazilian president accused of obstruction of justice

Carola SOLÉ, Damian WROCLAVSKY
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Brazil's President Michel Temer has denied any wrongdoing

Brazil's President Michel Temer faced new calls for his resignation Friday after being accused of attempting to derail a massive corruption investigation known as "Car Wash."

Temer and a senior senator accused of corruption, Aecio Neves, were among those "who attempted to prevent the Car Wash investigations from advancing," Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot wrote in a court filing released Friday.

The obstruction of justice accusation raised the stakes in a crisis threatening to topple Temer barely a year after the center-right politician took over from impeached leftist president Dilma Rousseff.

Earlier, authorities had released what they said was a secretly recorded conversation between Temer and a business executive in which the president is purported to have given his blessing to monthly payments of hush money to a jailed politician.

That politician -- former lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha -- is in prison after a "Car Wash" judge convicted him of bribe-taking.

The "Car Wash" investigation has upended Brazil with scores of politicians indicted or subject to probes into alleged bribe taking and embezzlement.

And Cunha, formerly one of the most powerful insiders in Congress, has long been rumored to have threatened to spill secrets on other politicians to prosecutors.

Temer angrily denied any wrongdoing in a televised address Thursday and rebutted mounting calls for his resignation. He has not spoken in public since then.

- Demand for resignation -

Adding fuel to the fire was the release Friday of plea bargain testimony by executives at the huge JBS meatpacking company indicating that they had given Temer $4.6 million in bribes.

The executives also claimed to have paid $150 million in undeclared campaign funds to former presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Rousseff.

Opponents piled on the pressure, with eight impeachment requests filed in Congress.

The powerful Globo newspaper published an editorial at the top of its webpage demanding Temer resign.

"Not one citizen conscious of the obligations of citizenship can fail to recognize that the president has lost the moral, ethical, political and administrative conditions to continue governing Brazil," the editorial said.

The beleaguered president was holed up at the presidential palace with close aides, a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The government is working on three fronts to end the crisis: political, judicial and economic," the source said.

According to the source, Temer was "angry" and had no intention of stepping down.

Analysts said that politicians will look to see whether street protests build against the president.

Temer's conservative government has angered millions of Brazilians with its ambitious austerity reforms, which include the planned raising of the retirement age to fix the country's unaffordable pension system.

Temer is especially loathed on the left for his role in the impeachment just a year ago of leftist president Dilma Rousseff. As her vice president, he immediately took over when she was pushed out.

On Thursday, thousands of people demonstrated against Temer in the capital Brasilia and in Rio de Janeiro.

Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party planned nationwide protests on Sunday, with turnout likely proving an important barometer of the national mood.

Even a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa, called for Temer's head.

"There is no other way out. Brazilians must mobilize, must take to the streets to forcefully demand the immediate resignation of Michel Temer," he said on Twitter.

However, the Vem Pra Rua group, which was active in bringing down Rousseff last year, abruptly cancelled plans for its own mass protests, saying there wasn't enough time to plan security.

- Crucial coalition partner -

Although Temer faces a perilous investigation in the Supreme Court, his more immediate danger is a collapse of his base in Congress, opening the way to impeachment.

So far only one minister, the culture secretary, has quit, but several others have been rumored to have one foot out of the door. Folha newspaper referred to "a climate of confusion."

Temer's PMDB party is the biggest in Congress but the key to his coalition is the center-right PSDB Social Democrats. They have given mixed signals, but so far are staying in the government.

"Our ministers continue to work and we will not take any action with regard to their staying in the government before we have a conversation with President Temer," the party's Senate leader, Paulo Bauer, told Globo.

Ironically, the legislature that now holds Temer's fate in its hands is itself riddled with corruption scandals uncovered by "Car Wash" investigators.