The case against Brazil’s former President Michel Temer

. Mar 22, 2019
The case against Brazil's former president Michel Temer Michel Temer escorted by federal marshals

Michel Temer’s brief stint as president (about two and a half years) was riddled with corruption allegations. He was the first Brazilian head of state to face indictment requests while still in office. By the time he passed the presidential sash on to Jair Bolsonaro, Mr. Temer was facing ten different inquiries. As we pointed out on January 2, it was only a matter of time for him to find himself inside a jail cell.

As it turned out, Michel Temer was detained in the latest phase of Operation Car Wash, the Federal Police’s long-running investigation into corruption at government agencies and state-owned companies. Operation “Decontamination,” as it was baptized, is, in fact, an offshoot of three previous Car Wash stages: Radioactivity, Pripyat, and Brotherhood. As the first two suggest, these consisted of probes into Brazil’s nuclear power sector, in particular, the construction of the Angra 3 nuclear plant in Rio de Janeiro.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The former president was arrested alongside his former Minister of Mines and Energy, Wellington Moreira Franco, his close friend and ally João Baptista Lima Filho (better known as Coronel Lima), and five other businesspeople, including Coronel Lima&#8217;s wife. The arrest warrants were signed by Marcelo Bretas, the trial court judge tasked with deciding all Car Wash cases in the state of Rio de Janeiro.</span></p> <h2>Temer, the &#8220;ringleader&#8221;</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The crucial information behind Operation Decontamination comes from Operation Radioactivity, launched back in July 2015. This sting involved works contracts signed between state-owned company Eletronuclear and construction companies involved in other prominent Car Wash cases.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As part of this case, the Federal Police heard the testimony of José Antunes Sobrinho, the owner of construction company <a href="">Engevix</a>—part of the consortium awarded contracts to perform works on the Angra 3 nuclear plant.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Sobrinho claimed he paid bribes to the then-president of Eletronuclear, Othon Luiz Pinheiro, who was arrested as part of that operation. The construction company owner also claimed he was sought out by Coronel Lima and pressured to include his firm Argeplan in the Angra 3 consortium, despite not having any experience working on nuclear plant projects.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Federal Prosecution Service alleges that Argeplan&#8217;s participation in the consortium was purely to allow the payment of bribes to Michel Temer, who used Coronel Lima as his broker for receiving unlawful benefits. Judge Marcelo Bretas stated that Mr. Temer was the &#8220;ringleader&#8221; of a criminal organization operating for &#8220;40 years&#8221; within state-owned companies and government agencies.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The arrest, in itself, was based on renovation works carried out on the home of Maristela Temer, the former president&#8217;s daughter, in 2014. The prosecution believes the works were a money laundering operation, being carried out by Coronel Lima&#8217;s wife Maria Rita Fretezi, and paid for in cash. This, according to Marcelo Bretas, gave sufficient grounds to arrest Michel Temer.</span></p> <h2>What&#8217;s next?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Michel Temer is currently being held at the Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, in a spacious room with a private bathroom, television, and minibar. He refused to eat dinner on Thursday evening, and is set to refuse to give a statement to the police later today. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The defense team of the former president has filed for a habeas corpus to free him from preventive detention. According to newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Estadão</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, the request will be overseen but appellate judge Ivan Athié in Rio de Janeiro, who has been criticized in the past for being lenient on corruption. The prosecution service believes there is a good chance Michel Temer will be released in the coming days.

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