SAO PAULO – Brazil's federal police said Tuesday that investigators have found evidence President Michel Temer received bribes to help businesses, raising a new threat that the embattled leader could be suspended from office pending a corruption trial.
Temer has been under investigation due to plea bargain testimony by wealthy businessman Joesley Batista of the giant meatpacking company JBS that linked the president and an aide to bribes and the president to an alleged endorsement of hush money for jailed ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha.
Temer has denied any wrongdoing and insists he will not resign.
If Brazil's top prosecutor agrees with the federal police recommendation, Congress will decide whether Temer should be investigated by the Supreme Court, which is the only body that can formally investigate the president. If two-thirds of Congress voted to allow the investigation, Temer would be suspended from office pending trial.
In a report published Tuesday by Brazil's top court, federal police investigators said they have enough evidence of bribes being paid to warrant a formal investigation of Temer for "passive corruption" — Brazil's charge for the act of taking bribes. It said former Temer aide Rodrigo Rocha Loures directly received bribes from JBS on the president's behalf.
A previously released video made by investigators shows Loures carrying a suitcase filled with about $150,000 in cash allegedly being sent from JBS to the president. Loures later gave the bag and most of the money to Brazil's federal police, authorities have said.
The federal police report noted Temer has refused to answer investigators' questions in the case.
"Before the silence of the highest authority of the nation and his former special aide, the evidence obtained from the information in this probe remains unchanged and indicates, with vigor, the crime of passive corruption," the report said.
Attorney General Rodrigo Janot had said last month there were enough preliminary indications of wrongdoing for Temer to be investigated for corruption and obstruction of justice.
The president is being investigated for three alleged crimes: corruption, obstruction of justice and being member of a criminal organization.
Temer, whose poll ratings have slumped into single digits, is in Russia on one of his few trips abroad since assuming the presidency a year ago after President Dilma Rousseff was suspended upon being impeached, which led to her permanent removal from office. Temer was expected to hold a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
Temer's push for economic austerity measures and reforms got a setback in Congress on Tuesday when a Senate committee rejected his proposal to loosen Brazil's labor laws. The bill on the matter, however, was not killed and will be voted on by the full Senate.