SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Michel Temer said on Tuesday that he is only “minimally concerned” about the corruption charges brought against him by the Attorney General’s Office.
Temer called a news conference at the presidential palace to respond to the indictment, which was announced late Monday.
Flanked by Cabinet ministers and legislative allies, the president professed “absolute respect” for the judiciary, while denouncing the charges against him as unfounded and based on “illicit” evidence.
“I will not give ground in the face of irresponsible attacks. I don’t lack the courage to continue working on the reconstruction of the country,” Temer said, claiming to speak “in the name of the institution of the presidency.”
The 74-year-old Temer is the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be charged with a criminal offense.
Prosecutors accuse Temer of encouraging the payment of hush money to a political ally already convicted of graft in connection with a $2 billion scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Those charges originated with brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, owners of JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company.
As part of a plea deal, the JBS owners handed prosecutors a secretly taped audio recording in which Temer appeared to say that bribes needed to continue to flow to former lower-house speaker Eduardo Cunha.
The Batista brothers also said that they had been paying off Temer and his political allies since 2010.
Cunha spearheaded the effort that led last year to the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff via impeachment.
Temer, who served as Rousseff’s vice president from 2011 to 2016, turned against his boss, supported the impeachment process and eventually succeeded her in office.
The lower house of Congress – where the president’s party has a majority – will have the final say over whether the prosecution of Temer can go forward.
It would a take a two-thirds majority to put Temer in the dock.
If Congress allows the prosecution, Temer will be suspended for six months and lower house speaker Rodrigo Maia will be named interim president.
In the event Temer were convicted, Congress would choose a successor to serve out the balance of the presidential term that ends Jan. 1, 2019.