Temer's corruption scandal: what we know

Brasília (AFP) –


Brazil's Congress debated Wednesday on whether President Michel Temer should face trial on corruption charges.

He is the first Brazilian leader to face criminal charges while in office, but he's also a proven survivor and cannot be counted out yet.

Here's what we know about a crisis that threatens Brazil with its second abrupt change of president in 12 months.

- What's the accusation? -

Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot says Temer took millions of dollars in bribes from meatpacking giant JBS in return for legislative favors.

The most eye-catching evidence is video shot by police of a close Temer confidant running out of a Sao Paulo pizza restaurant with a heavy black suitcase. He'd just been meeting a JBS representative and the suitcase was stuffed with $150,000 in Brazilian reais.

A second charge which many expect Janot to file in coming weeks would be for obstruction of justice. This is based on allegations by Janot that Temer authorized payment of hush money to a former ally who is now in jail for corruption, Eduardo Cunha.

The case is part of the vast Car Wash probe, in which prosecutors have used plea bargain testimony to turn high-ranking executives and politicians against each other, revealing a mammoth embezzlement and bribery scheme.

It also comes a year after Temer's predecessor Dilma Rousseff was ejected in an impeachment vote for breaking budget rules.

- Will Congress authorize trial? -

The case shocked Brazil when it burst into the media in May. Temer looked almost finished. However, he has ridden out the initial storm and now feels confidant.

To be put on trial at the Supreme Court, the lower house must vote by two thirds in favor. That's a high bar to clear and Temer's aides say he has the support of enough deputies to sink the motion.

There are wild cards, however.

Knowing it cannot get enough votes to authorize a trial, the opposition may instead refuse to show up, preventing a quorum from being formed and leaving the charge against Temer hanging.

If he cannot clear up the first charge, the filing of a second charge by Janot could be far more damaging.

- How common is corruption? -

In Brazil today, it's hard to find major politicians who are not being investigated for corruption.

Car Wash has resulted in investigations and criminal cases against scores of big names, ranging from leftist senators who were in the long-running Workers' Party government to eight ministers in Temer's cabinet.

Former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been convicted of taking a seaside apartment as a bribe from the OAS construction company. He was sentenced in July to nearly 10 years prison but remains free on appeal.

While waiting to know his fate, Lula is campaigning to regain the presidency in elections next year.

- Temer's next move -

Temer has reportedly been ruthless in use of patronage and freeing up financing for congressional deputies' projects in his push to secure enough support in the lower house.

He says that if cleared, he will renew his push for market reforms that he says are kick-starting Brazil's economy after two years of deep recession.

However, the centerpiece of those reforms -- cuts to the generous pension system -- are hugely unpopular. Whether Congress, already running scared from Car Wash and the prospect of elections next year, will pass the reform is another question.

Temer's political viability may be decided not by whether he survives Wednesday's vote but by the margin. A thin margin would mean lame duck status, but a healthy show of support for rejecting the corruption charge would give him new impetus.