Brazil leader denies report he endorsed bribing ex-lawmaker

"Given the gravity of the situation and the responsibility to keep Brazil from plunging into the imponderable, the only option is for President Michel Temer to resign", said Senator Ronaldo Caiado, leader of the government-allied Democratas party in the Senate.

The report said that when Temer was told Cunha was being paid to keep silent, the president responded: "You have to keep that up, all right?"

In a statement, the president's office said Mr Temer never solicited payments to keep former Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha silent. JBS, the world's biggest meatpacker, declined to comment.

Mr Cunha led the impeachment fight that removed Dilma Rousseff from the presidency previous year and put Mr Temer, then the vice president, into power.

The statement from Temer's office confirmed that in March the president did meet with Joseley Batista, chairman of the meat-packing company JBS.

Before releasing the statement, Temer met with some members of his cabinet: Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha, Secretary-General Moreira Franco, Government Secretary Antonio Imbassahy, Communications Secretary Marcio Freitas and spokesman Alexandre Parola.

With the collaboration of the Batista brothers, police used hidden cameras and tracking chips in bags of cash to record a series of bribes to politicians, according to O Globo.

Globo did not release the purported recording but said the information came from a plea bargain between prosecutors and JBS' Batista.

Cunha, once a powerful member of Temer's ruling party, has previously said he had compromising information about a host of senior politicians linked to a vast political bribery scandal at state oil firm Petrobras.

A recent survey credited Temer with only 9-percent voter endorsement for performance - below Rousseff's standing at the moment of her suspension for allegedly masking data on the depth of the country's recession.

Temer's right-wing PMDB party was formerly in a coalition with Rousseff's PT before a rupture a year ago that helped pave the way for the controversial impeachment process, widely condemned as a parliamentary coup.

If the court rules that the Rousseff-Temer 2014 re-election campaign won due to the use of illegal funds, the race would be annulled and Temer would have to step down.

Now it's up to Mendes to set a date for the start of the trial, which will be heard by seven judges.

The accusations against Temer are especially explosive as he has been in power barely a year since the bitter maneuvers to push Rousseff out of office.

  • Anthony Vega