A Brazilian minister resigned on Friday amid allegations that he enlisted President Michel Temer's help to pressure a fellow Cabinet member to approve a luxury apartment development project in a preservation zone. It is the first direct accusation of wrongdoing against Temer while in office.
The announcement feeds a growing scandal over alleged misuse of power that threatens Temer's presidency only six months after he replaced a predecessor ousted from office by Congress — and at a time corruption investigations have tarred many senior politicians.
At least one opposition party says it will submit a motion to impeach the new president and many more could follow.
Temer, who is deeply unpopular with many Brazilians, has been struggling to push through an ambitious austerity agenda he says will pull Latin America's largest economy out of its worst recession in decades. Since May, his administration has lurched from one scandal to the next, but until now, none had directly implicated the president.
Temer's administration "just turned six months and it already looks old," Fabio Zanini, political editor of the daily newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, wrote Friday. "The strategy to win popular legitimacy with an economic recovery and political stability is quickly sinking for a president who was not supported by the popular vote."
The latest crisis started when former Culture Minister Marcelo Calero told federal police that Temer's legislative affairs minister, Geddel Vieira Lima, pressured him to allow construction of a luxury building in a historic preservation area in the city of Salvador, 1,000 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. Lima had bought a unit in the planned development.
Calero, who resigned last week, testified that Temer himself suggested that he use a method to avoid the normal oversight process for such a building.
Calero said Temer invited him to the presidential palace last week to suggest "a way out," indicating that the building restrictions had created "operational difficulties" in his administration, according to Calero's testimony.
"Politics has these things, that kind of pressure," Temer said, according with Calero.
Temer's spokesman said Thursday night that the president simply intervened to arbitrate a dispute between Cabinet members.
In his resignation letter, Lima said the accusations of wrongdoing were merely "interpretations." He said he was stepping down because he and his family were suffering due to the accusations.
Lima is the sixth minister in Temer's government to resign amid allegations of corruption.
Several Brazilian news outlets reported Friday that Calero had made recordings of conversations with Temer, Lima and presidential Chief-of-Staff Eliseu Padilha, but federal police didn't confirm the information.
"I never acted in bad faith or in deceitful ways," Calero said on his Facebook page. "I fulfilled my duties as a Brazilian citizen not to comply with illegalities and acts with respect to the institutions."
Still, Brazil's Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said Calero could face prosecution if he recorded the president. Moraes is the head of the country's federal police.
The left-leaning Socialist and Liberty Party pledged that on Monday it would submit a measure to Congress to impeach Temer. But to move forward, it would have to be accepted by Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies and a Temer ally.
After Lima's resignation, Maia said in an interview that "there is no reason for impeachment" so far.
Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, said the scandal makes Temer's future unpredictable.
"The damage can grow," Stuenkel said. "There will be speculation about the future and that will also delay attempts to pass reforms."
The political scene was embittered by the impeachment trial and ouster of former President Dilma Rousseff, who was found guilty by the opposition-led Senate of breaking budgetary laws. Temer was vice president and replaced her, making him a target for Rousseff allies who called her ouster a legislative "coup."
Temer is pushing to pass a major overhaul of the pension system and to impose a cap on government spending. In another sign of support to the embattled president, the chairman of the Senate suggested that the cancellation of Congress' recess in January so Temer's measures could be voted upon.
Brazil's economy is expected to contract by 3% this year after a similarly bad 2015.