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Brazil's top federal prosecutor charged President Michel Temer on Monday with accepting bribes, the first of what is expected to be a series of formal graft charges against the deeply unpopular leader in the coming weeks.
Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot delivered the charges to the Supreme Court, marking a stinging blow to Temer and the first time the public prosecutor has presented charges against a sitting Brazilian president.
Under Brazilian law, the lower house of Congress must now vote on whether to allow the tribunal to try the conservative leader, who replaced impeached leftist President Dilma Rousseff just last year.
Lawmakers within Temer's coalition are confident they have the votes to block the two-third majority required to proceed with a trial. But they warn that support may wane if congressmen are forced to vote several times to protect Temer - whose popularity is languishing in single-digits - from trial.
Temer's office and his attorney, Antonio Mariz, did not respond to requests for comment. Temer has repeatedly said he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Temer was charged in connection with a graft scheme involving the world's largest meatpacker, JBS SA. Executives said in plea-bargain testimony the president took nearly $5 million in bribes for resolving tax matters, freeing up loans from state-run banks and other matters.
Joesley Batista, one of the brothers who control JBS, recorded a conversation with Temer in which the president appears to condone bribing a potential witness. Batista also accused Temer and aides of negotiating millions of dollars in illegal donations for his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).
For more than three years, investigators in Brazil have uncovered stunning levels of corruption enveloping the political class and business elites. Much of it centered on companies paying billions of dollars in bribes to politicians and executives at state-run enterprises for lucrative contracts.
Temer and one-third of his cabinet, as well as four former presidents and dozens of lawmakers are under investigation or already charged in the schemes.
The scandals reduce the chances that Temer can push through reforms crucial for Latin America's biggest economy to rebound from its worst recession on record.
Key lawmakers in Temer's alliance told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, they will halt work on proposed labor reforms if forced to vote on charges against the president.
Temer's supporters say they have between 250 and 300 votes in the 513 seat lower house to block a trial. But the president is expected to soon face charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice, each requiring a separate vote.
On Monday, the federal police recommended charging Temer with obstruction of justice - the first step toward a new round of charges.