The Prosecutor General’s decision to indict President Michel Temer yesterday as part of a corruption investigation, only 12 days before the end of his term, puts a bow on what has been a consistently controversial and unpopular administration.
In a report of over 70 pages, Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge accuses Mr. Temer and five of his allies of receiving unlawful benefits in exchange for the issuance of a presidential decree in favor of companies working at the Port of Santos, the largest in Latin America.
Ms. Dodge requests that the president is convicted of passive corruption and money laundering and that he and the other five accused parties repay the BRL 32 million alleged to have been received as bribes. In the space of just 28 months, this is the third criminal indictment filed against Michel Temer during his term as president. His administration has been met with controversy and scandal at every turn.
Brazil’s most unpopular president
Michel Temer came to power in August 2016 after his predecessor Dilma Rousseff was impeached for so-called “fiscal pedaling,” a creative accounting technique which involves delaying repayments to state-owned banks in order to pay for government obligations. Ms. Rousseff was ousted due to breaking the Fiscal Responsibility Law and, as her vice president, Michel Temer stepped into the hot seat.
The impeachment process was shrouded in contention, having been orchestrated by Michel Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement party. Suspicions were fueled further when two days after Ms. Rousseff’s removal from office, the Senate (controlled by the same politicians who ousted the president) ruled that fiscal pedaling was no longer a crime.
During his time in office, Michel Temer helped instate a number of unpopular laws, such as the federal spending cap (which froze public spending for 20 years in a move akin to forced austerity) and a sweeping labor reform which regulated outsourcing for primary activities and weakened workers’ rights.
In criminal matters, things were even more turbulent. Yesterday’s move by the Prosecutor General means that Michel Temer has now faced three indictments during his short term. On June 26, 2017, then Prosecutor General Ricardo Janot filed an information against the president for his alleged receipt of BRL 38 million in unlawful benefits from meatpacking company JBS.
Mr. Temer’s close advisor Rodrigo Rocha Loures (one of the five allies involved in yesterday’s indictment) was filmed leaving a restaurant in São Paulo with a suitcase containing BRL 500,000, allegedly to be delivered to the president.
In September of the same year, Mr. Janot filed another indictment against Michel Temer, this time for criminal organization and obstruction of justice.
For a sitting president to be made a defendant in a Supreme Court case, the indictment has to be accepted by Congress, which, in the case of the first two accusations, they were not. On both occasions, the lower house decided that the indictments be revisited at the end of Mr. Temer’s term.
As a result of these scandals, Michel Temer unsurprisingly struggled for popularity. In 2017, his approval rating dropped to just 3 percent, making him the most unpopular president in Brazilian democratic history and the least popular in the world at the time. At the end of his term, he has managed to bump up this rate to a still paltry 5 percent.
What will happen to the third indictment?
As mentioned above, sitting presidents may only be made defendants in Supreme Court cases if the indictment against them is approved by Congress. As this accusation comes in the middle of December, a matter of days before the legislature goes on holiday and Michel Temer ends his term, it would be impossible for the indictment to be passed by Congress in time.
Instead, as of January 1, the case (as well as the other two rejected indictments) will be passed on to the Federal Court of the Federal District—a trial court—as Mr. Temer will lose his jurisdictional prerogative as he leaves the presidency.
However, behind the scenes there has been talk of Michel Temer being offered a diplomatic role in the Jair Bolsonaro government, in exchange for his assistance during the transition period. He has been slated for the position of Brazilian ambassador in Italy, having been active in the attempts to extradite Italian citizen Cesare Battisti.
If he is given this job, he will once again gain immunity, meaning his case would have to go to the Supreme Court after all. However, no longer being the president, the Congress would no longer have to accept the indictments, meaning that cases against him should be reopened (be they at a trial or high court) once the judiciary returns from its holidays in February.