High noon: Brazilian President Michel Temer is preparing himself for a challenging phase of his tenure. Picture: Reuters
High noon: Brazilian President Michel Temer is preparing himself for a challenging phase of his tenure. Picture: Reuters

Rio de Janeiro — In the face of pending corruption allegations likened to a ticking bomb, Brazilian President Michel Temer is building himself a bunker.

An embezzlement and bribery probe, Operation Car Wash, has been shaking high-level Brazilian politics for almost three years.

But far from winding down, it is expected to escalate soon.

Prosecutors are looking into whether Temer and many others, often from his PMDB party, took part in a corruption network that embezzled funds from state oil company Petrobras and filled election campaign coffers with dirty money.

The president and some of his allies are among those implicated in testimony given in plea bargains by 77 executives from Odebrecht, a construction firm that ran a secret department for bribing politicians.

The testimony remains secret. But it could soon be released by the Supreme Court — and the president’s team is scrambling to take cover.

"The approach of the tsunami has prompted the government to enact its emergency plan," said Bernardo Mello Franco, a columnist with Folha de Sao Paulo daily.

According to testimony that was leaked, then vice-president Temer asked Odebrecht in 2014 to give the centre-right PMDB millions of dollars in campaign funds. He denies doing anything improper and a sitting president cannot be prosecuted for crimes that occurred before his term began. But with large numbers of other politicians also expected to be implicated, the potential scandal could still be huge.

For sitting politicians accused of crimes, it will be up to the Supreme Court whether to authorise further investigations and whether to go to trial.

That is seen as an advantage compared to the fate of executives and former politicians caught in Operation Car Wash. They must instead face a set of crusading prosecutors and judges at a lower court level.

When the Supreme Court’s main justice for Car Wash cases, Teori Zavascki, died in a plane crash in January, some worried the probe might be derailed.

But so far, the Supreme Court appears determined to press on and analysts say Temer’s inner circle is scrambling to gain whatever advantage it can. Temer named a highly partisan figure last week to fill Zavascki’s seat — his justice minister, Alexandre de Moraes.


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