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Brazil: explosive recordings implicate President Michel Temer in bribery

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Street protests and calls for impeachment as prosecutors are handed tapes of discussions about hush-money payments to jailed powerbroker Eduardo Cunha

Angry crowds and outraged members of Brazils congress have demanded the impeachment of President Michel Temer following reports he was secretly recorded discussing hush money pay-offs to a jailed associate.

The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the countrys biggest meat-packing firm JBS, according to O Globo newspaper.

They are said to contain conversations that incriminate several leading politicians, including the former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega.

Temer is alleged to have talked with Joesley about cash payments to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House who has been jailed for his role in the sprawling Petrobras corruption scandal.

Cunha is in the same ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party as Temer and initiated the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that allowed him to take over the presidency. He has alluded to the many secrets he knows about his former colleagues.

In covert recordings made during two conversations in March, Joesley tells Temer he is paying Cunha to keep him quiet, to which the president allegedly replies: You have to keep it going, OK?

According to Globo, police also have audio and video evidence that Temers aide Rocha Loures negotiated bribes worth 500,000 reais (US$160,000) a week for 20 years in return for helping JBS overcome a problem with the monopolies commission.

Planalto, the presidential palace, issued a statement denying the claims: President Michel Temer never solicited payments to obtain the silence of former deputy Eduardo Cunha. He neither participated nor authorised any activity with the objective of preventing testimonies or cooperation with justice officials by the parliamentarian.

No audio or transcripts were released. The supreme court has refused to comment on the validity of the alleged leak but the news has enraged the public. Shouts and pot-banging (a traditional form of protest in Latin America) could be heard when the allegations were aired on TV. Crowds also gathered outside the presidential palace chanting Fora Temer (Temer out). Two congressmen submitted impeachment motions in the lower house.

Politics is likely to become more paralysed even before the latest claims Temers administration was in crisis. Three of his ministers have been forced to resign and eight others are implicated in the lava jato (car wash) corruption investigation. The presidents approval ratings have fallen to single digits, the economy remains mired in recession and opponents recently organised a general strike in protest at his austerity policies and proposed changes to pension, labour and environmental laws. The possibility of Brazil unseating another president has moved closer, though the ruling coalition has a large majority in Congress.

The JBS allegations also threaten one of his most powerful allies. Joesely Batista is said to have recorded senator and former presidential candidate Aecio Neves of the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic party requesting two million reais in bribes. According to Globo federal police filmed the payment to the senators cousin. The money was then tracked to a bank account of a company belonging to Zeze Perrella, who like Neves is a PSDB senator from Minas Gerais.

It is not the first time Perrella has been linked to crime. In 2013 a helicopter belonging to his son Gustavo was seized by police with 445 kilograms of cocaine on board. Only the pilot was arrested.

None of the major parties looks set to emerge unscathed from the plea bargain by JBS. Guido Mantega, finance minister in the last Workers party government, has also allegedly been accused to accepting cash in return for lobbying on behalf of JBS with the Brazilian National Development Bank.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us