President Michel Temer of Brazil on Tuesday denounced corruption charges against him as a “legal fiction” and refused to step down.
In a speech broadcast on national television, Temer also accused Attorney General Rodrigo Janot of being politically motivated and of reinventing the criminal code in order to attack him.
Temer said: “From a legal point of view, my concerns are minimal.
“This infamy is political in nature. I never saw the money and I did not participate in any arrangements with the aim of committing illegal acts.”
Janot on Monday charged Temer with accepting bribes from JBS, the world’s largest meat-packing company, in return for his intercession in its favour at the country’s competition regulator, the Administrative Council for Economic Defence .
As evidence, he presented footage recorded by a JBS executive, which showed Rodrigo Rocha Loures, a former advisor to Temer, leaving a pizzeria with a suitcase containing 500,000 reals (150,000 dollars).
The money was allegedly the first payment in a series meant for Temer.
It is the first time an incumbent president has been formally charged with corruption in Brazil.
Loures, a former lawmaker who was arrested at the beginning of June on charges of receiving an alleged bribe on Temer’s behalf, was also indicted on Monday.
Janot said that Temer had “deceived the Brazilian people” and that the footage of Loures was an affront “to citizens and to the public office he held.”
The Supreme Court must now decide on whether to allow a prosecution to go ahead.
The charges are part of sprawling “Operation Car Wash” investigation into political corruption.
Dozens of Brazilian politicians, officials and business people are accused of having been part of a pay-to-play system focused on the state-controlled petroleum company Petrobras.
About 260 people are under investigation, most of them for corruption and money laundering, with 130 people sentenced to prison so far.
The scandal has hit all of Brazil’s major political parties, and investigations have also exposed its international reach.
A centre-right politician from Brazil’s Democratic Movement Party, Temer took power in late August, after leftist Dilma Rousseff was removed from office for breaking budget laws.
Since taking office, the conservative president’s popularity rating has nosedived to just seven
per cent. (dpa/NAN)