Temer abroad as Brazil's crisis gets messier amid graft proof

Brazilian President Michel Temer, on a trip in Russia, is still fighting an increasingly messy battle to retain power back home (AFP Photo/Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV) (AFP)

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Brazil's federal police Tuesday said it had solid evidence embattled president Michel Temer received bribes, a legal development that could see him suspended from office.

In a report the Federal Supreme Court said Temer -- who was away in Russia -- benefited from bribe funds, even if he did so using someone else to collect or deposit the bribes.

Temer has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

But Brazil's top court said it had accumulated enough evidence of bribes being paid to merit an investigation into Temer for "passive corruption."

Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot will use the report as the foundation of the corruption case against the conservative president.

"Faced with silence from the president and his former assistant, there is irrefutable evidence... showing strongly that passive corruption (on Temer's part) took place," the document said in part.

The report referred to the president's relationship with suspended lawmaker Rodrigo Rocha Loures, who is in jail.

Rocha Loures was filmed with a suitcase stuffed with a 150,000-dollar payoff from a JBS executive.

The court's report alleges that Rocha Loures accepted bribes from JBS on Temer's behalf.

- Long-haul corruption probe -

Three years of investigations known as "Car Wash" have uncovered systemic corruption in the political and business elite, leaving Latin America's biggest country seething.

"We are at war against a faceless enemy," Janot said late Monday.

The main battle in that war features Janot's allegation that Temer took bribes -- and attempted to buy the silence of a senior politician jailed for corruption.

Temer is "the head of the most dangerous criminal organization in the country," according to meatpacking billionaire Joesley Batista, who secretly recorded the alleged hush money discussion as part of a plea deal to escape prosecution over his own corruption charges.

Now, it will be up to Janot to present formal charges before the Supreme Court.

Once that happens, the lower house of Congress would have to vote by a two-thirds majority for Temer to go on trial.

- Friends in high places -

Temer says his trips to fellow emerging economy giant Russia and to oil-rich Norway are about raising Brazil's trading footprint. He quickly retweeted a Russian presidency post showing him seated next to Vladimir Putin in a lavishly gilded stall at the Bolshoi theater.

But Temer's coolness in taking a foreign trip in the midst of his domestic crisis isn't just bravado.

The conservative president may have rock bottom popularity ratings and a major portion of his closest political allies also facing "Car Wash" investigations. Yet, he also has powerful friends.

These include many of the congressional deputies who will have to vote on whether to send Temer to trial. Given swaths of them also face corruption probes, they are currently expected to spare Temer -- and take out their anger on "Car Wash" instead.

To illustrate this dynamic, the latest cover of politics magazine Veja depicts Temer in a canoe with scandal-ridden Aecio Neves -- who is currently suspended from the Senate -- and their political arch-enemy, former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

All three have wildly separate political agendas but also face "Car Wash" prosecutions and are in a "joint project of desperate survival and resistance against the most successful operation against corruption in Brazilian history," Veja commented.

Temer has also been getting a boost from one of the country's most influential judges, Gilmar Mendes.

Earlier this month, Mendes steered the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to throw out charges of campaign finance corruption that could have forced Temer out.

Now, in his other role as a justice on the Supreme Court, Mendes is going after Janot and what he calls the out-of-control "Car Wash."