202

Brazil ex-President Temer back in custody on graft charges

Former Brazilian President Michel Temer, center, leaves his residence inside a federal police vehicle as he turns himself in for arrest on corruption charges as part of a sprawling graft probe in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, May 9, 2019, a day after a judge ruled he should await trial in jail. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s former President Michel Temer was arrested for a second time on corruption charges Thursday, a sign that the former back-room dealmaker may be running out of moves in the face of a sprawling probe that has roiled Latin America’s largest nation.

Temer, 78, was taken to the headquarters of the federal police in Sao Paulo, where he will spend his first night as authorities seek a more appropriate place for him to stay. As a former president, Temer was entitled to special accommodations, both as a detainee and prisoner.

Temer’s latest legal woes began Wednesday, when a federal judge ordered the former president to return to jail while he’s investigated in several cases of alleged corruption related to the Car Wash, a far-reaching probe that has ensnared many of the country’s elite since bei ng launched in 2014.

After Temer left his home in police custody, the former president’s daughter, left the house on foot, declining to speak to journalists.

“This is a siege!” she said.

According to the prosecutors, construction company Engevix paid Temer bribes in exchange for a contract to build a nuclear power plant in the city of Angra dos Reis in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro state.

Prosecutors alleged in a previous statement that one Engevix executive said in plea bargain testimony that he paid more than $300,000 in 2014 to a company owned by a close Temer associate, Col. Joao Baptista Lima Filho, who also turned himself in.

Temer was first arrested in March but freed on appeal five days later by a judge who argued he did not pose a risk to the ongoing investigation.

Temer’s lawyer, Eduardo Carnelos, criticized the court’s latest decision, calling the former president’s detention “illegal, unjust and cruel”.

A spokesperson for the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice confirmed it had received a habeas corpus petition from Temer’s defense team, asking for his release. A decision could come within a few days.

If this failed to release him from jail, Carnelos said they would appeal the Supreme Court.

The Car Wash probe, launched in 2014, unveiled complex corruption schemes of money laundering, inflated construction contracts and kickbacks among the highest echelons of power. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010, is currently serving a sentence of eight years and 10 months.

While the probe has shaken up the political order, many analysts believe there are signs that it could be losing steam since judge Sergio Moro, who gained international fame as an anti-corruption crusader while overseeing many of the cases, stepped down to become justice minister in the administration of Jair Bolsonaro.

Still, for people already caught up in the investigation, there appears to be no end in sight.

Temer, then vice president, became president in 2016 after ex-President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office for illegally managing the federal budget.

Temer’s administration was clouded by corruption allegations and prosecutors charged him with corruption on three occasions. But Congress’ lower house, which must sign off on trying a sitting president, twice shielded Temer from such a fate. He left office before the third case could be voted on in Congress.

Before becoming vice president and then president, Temer spent decades as a congressman and was known for his ability to build coalitions and wheel and deal. Even though his legal troubles mounted toward the end of his presidency, Temer showed no sign of worry of what might happen when he lost partial immunity upon stepping down Jan. 1.

When asked in December whether he feared going to jail, Temer reiterated his claim that the cases against him were politically motivated and said it would all get sorted out.

“I’m at ease. I don’t have the least bit of worry,” he said.

___

Video journalist Victor Caivano in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.