Brazil’s former president Michel Temer arrested in corruption investigation

Temer arrested as part of Operation Car Wash, which led to the convictions of numerous members of Brazil’s political elite

Brazil’s former president Michel Temer – who played a key role in the 2016 impeachment of his rival Dilma Rousseff – has been arrested by federal policewhile driving in São Paulo.

Judge Marcelo Breitas issued arrest warrants on Thursday for Temer and nine others in “Operation Radioactivity” – part of Operation Car Wash, the country’s largest ever corruption investigation, which has led to the convictions of numerous members of Brazil’s political elite.

Television news programmes showed images of the former president being led from his car by armed police.

Federal prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro said Temer had led “a criminal organization”, which was involved in the construction of Brazil’s Angra 3 nuclear plant.

According to prosecutors, Temer received a R$1m bribe in exchange for awarding three companies a construction contract for the nuclear facility.

The prosecutors said Temer’s “criminal organization” committed crimes including cartel formation, active and passive corruption, money laundering and fraudulent bidding processes.

Also arrested was the former energy minister and governor of Rio de Janeiro, Moreira Franco, making him the fifth governor of the state to be arrested in three years.

In a statement, Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement party called the arrest “haphazard”. “The party hopes that the justice department re-establishes individual liberties and the presumption of innocence,” it read.

Temer’s detention makes him the second former Brazilian president arrested as part of Operation Car Wash.

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was detained in April 2018, and is now serving a 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering. He maintains his innocence and says he is a political prisoner of a judiciary which overstepped its powers.

Temer played a central role in the 2016 impeachment of Lula’s sucessor, Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached for illegally using money from state banks to bankroll public spending.

Rousseff and her supporters describe the impeachment as a coup, and the involvement of Temer – her vice-president – made him a sworn enemy of the Worker’s party (PT). But on Thursday, the party released a statement questioning the arrest.

“The Worker’s party hopes the arrests … are based on consistent facts, respecting the legal process, and not just speculations and accusations without proof, like what happened in ex-president Lula’s process,” the statement said.

While he was president, Temer was charged with a slew of crimes, including corruption, racketeering and obstruction of justice, but managed to dodge impeachment proceedings thanks to his alliances in Congress.

After leaving office on 1 January, however, Temer lost the legal protections enjoyed by a sitting president.

His arrest was celebrated by anti-corruption activists who had feared that the Car Wash investigation could lose momentum under pressure from powerful politicians seeking to avoid prosecution.

“This is really positive,” said Verena Schultze of the Vem Pra Rua group, whose mass street protests helped bring about Roussef’s impeachment. “Temer was never brought to justice because he was a sitting president, despite the fact that there were strong indications that he was involved in a lot of corruption.

“This shows that the operation isn’t partisan,” she added. “All the corrupt politicians have to be arrested, that’s how we want it.”

Temer pushed through a series of unpopular austerity measures – including freezing social spending for 20 years –and left office with an approval rating hovering around 2%.

Popular disgust over political corruption helped fuel the rise of Temer’s far-right successor, Jair Bolsonaro, who was sworn in on 1 January.

Contributor

Anna Jean Kaiser in Rio de Janeiro

The GuardianTramp

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