Former Brazilian President Michel Temer has been arrested in connection with a widespread corruption investigation that has already ensnared scores of the country’s business leaders and politicians.
He was taken into custody Thursday morning in Sao Paulo and flown to Rio de Janeiro to respond to accusations of corruption related to a construction contract for the Angra 3 nuclear power plant.
That contract is a small piece in a wider investigation into the former president and several associates. Federal prosecutor Fabiana Schneider told reporters Thursday that Temer headed a criminal organization that received more than $473 million in bribes.
“There is a spreadsheet that shows promises of payments were made for over 20 years to the acronym MT, or Michel Temer,” she said.
Temer has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. His party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement, released a statement defending the former president and calling for the justice system to “restore individual freedoms, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial and the right to a defense.”
Also arrested Thursday were Moreira Franco, a former minister of mining and energy, and Joao Baptista Lima Filho, a retired colonel and close friend of Temer.
They are accused of soliciting — with Temer’s knowledge — a $260,000 bribe from the engineering and construction company Engevix in exchange for part of the $42-million contract to build the nuclear plant, located west of Rio.
The bribe was allegedly laundered by way of a renovation on the home of Maristela Temer, the former president’s daughter. According to the Brazilian news portal G1, she told federal police the work on her apartment cost $183,000, but receipts obtained by authorities showed a total of more than $314,000.
Temer is also named in nine other inquiries. As president, he was charged with corruption, racketeering, obstruction of justice and other crimes. He avoided impeachment proceedings thanks to his allies in the lower house.
But when he left office Jan. 1, he lost the legal protections of a sitting president.
Temer is probably best known for his role in the impeachment of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, who was forced out of office in 2016 for breaking budgetary laws to make her government appear more economically sound ahead of the 2014 presidential election.
She accused Temer, her running mate in the 2010 and 2014 elections, of conspiring to overthrow her and called her impeachment a coup.
He then went on to serve out the rest of her second term, which was mired in corruption accusations and unpopular austerity measures. According to the independent polling firm Datafolha, he left office with an approval rating of just 7%.
Temer is among several politicians caught up in the investigation known as Lava Jato, or Car Wash, which began in March 2014 as an inquiry into allegations that executives at the state-run oil company Petrobras had been awarding construction companies contracts at inflated prices in exchange for bribes.
It has unearthed a corruption scheme thought to be worth at least $1 billion. Other politicians targeted include former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering.
Langlois is a special correspondent.