By Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian President Michel Temer’s legal team said on Wednesday that a corruption charge against him was based entirely on an illegally taped recording and plea-bargain testimony from confessed criminals.
Temer’s lawyer Antonio Mariz de Oliveira made the arguments in the written defense he delivered to a congressional committee looking into a charge the conservative leader took bribes.
“The defense believes that the charge is not based on facts; that it’s a piece of fiction based on hypothesis and assumptions,” Mariz told reporters after delivering the written defense to congress.
Temer has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He refuses to resign despite opposition calls to do so and polls showing his government’s approval rating is in the single digits.
In the defense, Temer’s legal team said a March audio recording, which prosecutors said captured the president condoning payment of hush money to a potential witness, was illegal because it was secretly recorded.
Temer also argued the recording was altered and that the man who made it – billionaire Joesley Batista, whose family controls meatpacking giant JBS SA – was a criminal who had admitted to bribing hundreds of politicians in plea bargain testimony to avoid jail time.
The defense said Temer’s remarks in the audio were too vague to support the charge against him.
Temer was charged last week in connection with a graft scheme involving JBS. Executives said the president took bribes for resolving tax matters and facilitating loans from state-run banks.
Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot alleged in the charge that Temer made deals under which JBS would have paid him 38 million reais ($11.54 million) over the next nine months.
Janot’s office declined to comment on Temer’s written defense or comments from his attorney including the contention that the recording and plea-bargain testimony are the entirety of the case. However, the prosecution has said it has more proof it will reveal.
Janot has said he expects to also charge Temer with racketeering and money laundering in the coming weeks.
Under Brazilian law, two-thirds of the lower house of congress must vote to allow a criminal charge against a sitting president to move to the Supreme Court. The full house is expected to vote by mid-July, although it is possible that could be delayed to early August after a congressional recess.
If the top court accepts a charge and puts the president on trial, he would be suspended for 180 days and replaced by the house speaker, Rodrigo Maia.
Investigators have uncovered corruption in the last three years that has engulfed Brazil’s political class and business elites. Much of it centers on companies paying billions of dollars in bribes to politicians and executives at state-run enterprises in return for contracts.
Temer and nine ministers as well as four former presidents and dozens of lawmakers are under investigation or already charged in the schemes.
Nearly 100 people have been convicted on corruption charges in just over three years.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito in Brasilia; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)