Brazil's Temer Blasts Prosecutor in Rebuttal of Charges

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s President Michel Temer rejected the corruption charges filed against him by the country’s chief prosecutor as fiction, saying there was no evidence behind the accusations.

"They tried to tar me with a criminal act, but they won’t succeed because it did not happen," he said at a nationally televised press conference in the presidential palace on Tuesday afternoon. Temer is the first Brazilian president to face criminal charges while in office.

In his strongest defense to date, Temer said chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot had acted unethically, and dismissed his main accuser, Joesley Batista, the former CEO of the meat-packing giant JBS, as a "confessed thief". The president said his detractors were attempting to paralyze the country by staggering the charges against him. "My will is to continue to work for Brazil, to generate growth and employment," he said.

Janot subsequently issued a statement saying that the accusations against Temer were based on "ample evidence" and complied with the constitutional requirement that "no one is above the law."

On Monday, Janot filed documents at the Supreme Court which accused the president of passive corruption, based on a secretly recorded conversation between Temer and Batista. For the case to go to trial, it requires the backing of two-thirds of the lower house of Congress. At present Temer appears to have enough legislative backing to block the process, although an increasingly vocal opposition could make inroads into Temer’s coalition. Also, Janot is still sifting through evidence and may press further charges in coming weeks.

If the case goes to trial and the president is found guilty, he would be stripped of his mandate and could be jailed.

With the prospect of more charges from Janot in coming weeks, the Supreme Court weighing in on proceedings and Congress having to vote on whether to open a potentially lengthy trial, politics stands to overshadow the outlook for the government’s market-friendly reform agenda.

"Now it’s become even more difficult to vote anything," said Luis Antonio Covatti, a lawmaker from the Progressive Party in Temer’s ruling coalition. "The government will use all its energy to survive."

Indicative of growing tension in Congress, opposition legislators are stepping up their efforts to advance impeachment proceedings currently shelved in Congress, according to Deputy Alessandro Molon, from the Rede party. He described the president’s speech as an insult to the nation.

Others are determined to block government legislation. "We are going to obstruct," said Jose Guimaraes, from the Workers’ Party of impeached President Dilma Rousseff. "We’re not going to vote on anything until Temer leaves."