Brazil's President Michel Temer speaks at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino(reuters_tickers)
By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Michel Temer on Saturday angrily challenged a recorded conversation implicating him in a corruption probe, saying he would continue as president and asking the Supreme Court to verify the integrity of the recording.
"Brazil will not be derailed," he said during a speech at the presidential palace, reiterating that he would not resign despite an ongoing investigation authorized by the Supreme Court into allegations he took bribes and condoned the payment of hush money to a jailed congressman.
Temer, visibly defiant, said he would ask the court to suspend the investigation against him until it could determine whether the recording, made by the chairman of meatpacker JBS SA during a March conversation, was edited afterwards.
But Brazil's prosecutor general, after Temer formally petitioned the court, filed a petition of his own, asking that justices maintain the probe, which by necessity would analyse the recordings and all other evidence.
"The investigation exists precisely to research facts and produce evidence, including technical analyses," wrote Rodrigo Janot, the prosecutor.
The recording, which some local media have said shows signs of editing, is part of far-reaching plea-bargain testimony by JBS executives that was disclosed this week.
In a statement late Saturday, Batista's company said the recording was turned over in full and that neither it nor any other evidence provided by JBS executives had been doctored.
"There is no chance there was editing of the original material because it was never subject to any sort of meddling," said the statement by J&F Investimentos, a Batista family company that is the controlling shareholder of JBS.
The recording and related testimony roiled Brazilian financial markets, cost Temer key congressional allies and led to widespread calls for his resignation. It also crippled efforts by Temer to pass economic reforms considered crucial to revive Brazil's economy after its worst recession on record.
The testimony, part of an ongoing string of major probes into corruption at the highest levels of Brazilian government and business, also claimed JBS paid millions in illegal campaign financing to Temer and his predecessors, leftists Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
'RIDDLED WITH LIES'
In his speech Saturday, Temer lashed out at Joesley Batista, the JBS chairman, and other company executives, saying they were angry with his conservative government's austerity plans and efforts to curb the generous public financing of private companies that typified the administrations of his predecessors.
JBS, now the world's largest meat processor, grew rapidly through acquisitions during the Rousseff and Lula governments, mostly because of large, low-cost loans by the national development bank.
Calling their testimony "riddled with lies," Temer said there were inconsistencies in the JBS executives' statements to prosecutors. He also seized upon ongoing investigations by Brazil's securities regulator, known as the CVM, to question their motivations.
On Friday, the CVM said it was probing recent trades in stock and currency markets that earned JBS' controlling shareholders windfalls, even as they were giving plea testimony that would eventually affect the value of JBS stock and Brazil's currency, the real.
Joesley Batista, who was allowed to leave Brazil and return to a Manhattan apartment after his testimony, "speculated against the national currency," Temer said, yet was now "loose and free to walk the streets of New York."
In its statement, J&F said efforts to undermine the testimony were to be expected. "It's natural, at this time, considering the heft of the charges, that there would be attempts to discredit them," the company said.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Paulo Prada; Editing by Mary Milliken)