Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - A Brazilian meat tycoon who unleashed a political firestorm with claims of wrongdoing by President Michel Temer has now accused the embattled leader of running "the country's most dangerous criminal organization."
JBS chairman Joesley Batista caused a major political uproar last month when he handed to authorities, in connection with a wide-reaching corruption scandal, an audio recording in which Temer appeared to condone the payment of hush money to a former lawmaker now in prison.
"It's the country's largest and most dangerous criminal organization. And the president is its leader," Batista said in an in-depth interview with the Epoca weekly published Saturday.
"Those who aren't in prison today are in the Planalto presidential palace. They are very dangerous people. I didn't have the courage to confront them."
Batista's remarks were made in his first interview since he clinched a plea bargain deal with authorities as the nationwide anti-graft operation codenamed "Car Wash" began targeting his business dealings.
Batista agreed to cooperate in exchange for avoiding a conviction.
The business tycoon's explosive revelations could prove fatal for Temer, after the Supreme Court set in motion corruption and graft probes targeting the president, increasing calls for him to step down.
Among the claims, Batista says tens of millions of dollars were paid to various political parties, including Temer's center-right Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).
Temer, 76, denies the allegations and has insisted he will remain in office.
"As soon as I met Temer, he started asking me for money to finance his campaigns. He isn't very modest when it comes to talking about money," Batista said.
"He saw me as a CEO who could finance his campaigns and organize some monkey business that would lead to graft."
Temer's office blasted Batista's latest comments as a "bunch of lies," saying the president would file a lawsuit against the meatpacking entrepreneur as early as Monday.
"Joesley is one of Brazil's most notorious and successful criminals," it said in a statement.
"In the interview, he says the president always asked him for something... But the president never had this beggar-like behavior. On the contrary, it was Joesley who tried to get the government to solve his problems."
Batista, who was forced into exile after the scandal broke out, returned to Brazil a week ago and, in a deposition with federal police Friday, repeated his accusations.
The business magnate's press relations team indicated he had been in China -- not in New York, as rumored -- "in order to protect his family, which had been repeatedly threatened since he decided to cooperate with the authorities."