Brazil’s Temer pressed to drop anti-corruption minister

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer is facing pressure to drop his anti-corruption minister, the second top official in his administration accused of trying to derail a sprawling bribery and kickback probe before taking office.

Michel Temer
Michel Temer

Transparency Minister Fabiano Silveira, the man tasked with fighting corruption, and Senate President Renan Calheiros became the latest officials ensnared by leaked recordings secretly made by a former oil industry executive as part of a plea bargain.

Those tapes led to the resignation of the planning minister last week, dealing a blow to Temer’s efforts to build a stable government in the wake of the May 12 suspension of leftist President Dilma Rousseff.

A government source told Reuters yesterday that Silveira will stay in his job for now. He took over the post almost three weeks ago.

In parts of the recordings, aired by TV Globo on Sunday night, Silveira criticizes prosecutors in the probe focused on state-run oil company Petrobras, which has already implicated dozens of politicians and led to the imprisonment of top executives.

In the conversation, recorded at Calheiros’ home three months before Silveira became minister, Silveira advises the Senate leader on how best to defend himself from the probe.

The former head of the transportation arm of Petrobras, Sergio Machado, who is under investigation as part of the graft probe and has turned state’s witness, recorded the meeting and conversations with other politicians to obtain leniency from prosecutors.

Silveira was a counselor on the National Justice Counsel, a judicial watchdog agency, at the time of the meeting.

In its report, Globo TV also said some audio indicated that Silveira on several occasions spoke with prosecutors in charge of the Petrobras case to find out what information they might have on Calheiros, which he reported back to the Senate leader.

Silveira is heard saying prosecutors were “totally lost.”

A spokesman for Silveira confirmed the conversation took place but said the excerpts were taken out of context.

“Temer’s initial decision was that Silveira can continue in his post for now because he did not interfere in the investigation, he was just giving Calheiros advice,” the spokesman said. He said Silveira was meeting his lawyers.

Yesterday, Ministry of Transparency staff marched to the presidential palace in Brasilia to demand Silveira’s ouster and restoration of the comptroller general’s office, which Temer renamed to show his commitment to fighting corruption.

All employees with management duties at the ministry resigned their posts to press their demands, union leader Rudinei Marques said.

Earlier, protesting employees prevented Silveira from entering the ministry building. They then washed its facade with soap and water to symbolize Temer’s need to clean up his government.

Temer, a centrist who was Rousseff’s vice president, was scheduled to meet Brazil’s prosecutor general later yesterday to discuss the leaked recordings.

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