Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, has pledged to take legal action to suspend an investigation into allegations he was involved in a corruption scandal that has engulfed national meat giant JBS.
Temer’s announcement followed the release of a taped conversation between him and JBS’ chairman, Joesley Batista, which the Brazilian president claimed had been “manipulated and adulterated with questionable purposes”.
According to Brazilian newspaper O Globo, in one of the recordings, Temer appeared to give his endorsement for the payment of a bribe by JBS to the former speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who was recently jailed after being found guilty of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.
The newspaper reported that, on the tape, Batista is heard telling Temer he is giving Cunha an allowance while in prison to keep quiet about previous payments made by the company to him and other politicians, O Globo claimed.
The tape is reported to be part of a plea-bargain agreement by JBS executives. JBS confirmed on Thursday seven executives from the company and controlling shareholder J&F Investimentos had entered into an agreement with federal prosecutors, a deal that has been ratified by the Supreme Court.
The agreement followed reports authorities in Brazil were probing loans received by JBS from local, government-owned development bank BNDES. JBS said the agreement with the prosecutor’s office “establishes the payment of a fine totaling BRL225m (US$69m)” by those involved.
JBS did not name the executives involved, however, Temer said testimonies had been given by Joesley Batista and others and contained “a lot of lies”.
Referring to the tape, Temer said: “This clandestine recording was manipulated and adulterated for questionable purposes.”
J&F Investimentos, the Batista family holding that controls JBS, told Reuters the tape has not been edited.
According to Reuters , the plea-bargain agreement contains claims JBS executives paid illegal campaign financing to Temer and his predecessors, leftists Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Temer has refused to resign over the issue and said Brazil “will not be steered off the rails”. He said he was petitioning the Supreme Court to suspend a probe into his conduct “until the authenticity of the clandestine recording can be definitively verified”.
However, Reuters has reported Brazil’s prosecutor general has petitioned the Supreme Court to continue with the probe, which prosecutors said would, by necessity, “analyse the recordings and all other evidence”.
Earlier this month, police in Brazil opened two new investigations involving food companies in the wake of bribery allegations earlier this year that rocked the domestic meat sector.
Brazil’s Federal Police Department confirmed last week (16 May) it had launched two probes into fresh alleged incidences of bribery that police say could have benefited meat-packing, fishing and dairy firms.