President Michel Temer has delivered a national address in which he vehemently denied endorsing hush money for a jailed ex-parliamentarian. Brazil's Supreme Court has approved a formal investigation into Temer.
The center-right president insisted on Brazilian television Thursday that he "will not step down" and "did not buy the silence of anyone."
He is the latest public figure to become the focus of a years-long and wide-ranging probe into kickbacks that has already seen 90 people convicted.
A presidential aide quoted by Reuters said Temer still believed that a recording purportedly between business executive Joesley Batista and himself contained nothing incriminating.
The 39-minute recording was made public Thursday by the newspaper O Globo after Brazil's supreme court lifted a seal on it and opened a probe against Temer amid signs that his center-right coalition could be crumbling.
A man believed to be Temer can be heard in the recording saying, "You have to keep that up, see?", apparently in reference to payments made to buy the silence of a potential witness.
Batista responds, "Every month."
Neves home searched
O Globo reported that Batista had also secretly recorded conversations with Senator Aecio Neves asking for legal defense monies.
On Thursday, police searched Neves' Rio de Janeiro home and Brasilia office. He denied taking a bribe.
By late Thursday, Brazilian time, two small parties allied in Congress with Temer had pulled their support. Four leftist opposition deputies called for his impeachment. Culture minister Roberto Freire resigned.
PSDB Social Democrat leader Ricardo Tripoli said: "If the evidence is confirmed, then we will ask our (ministers) to leave the government."
And, political scientists expressed doubts Thursday over Temer's future tenure.
"I can't see how Temer survives this," said David Fletcher of the University of Brasilia. "There are just two many people against him now."
"If Temer doesn't fall, he will lead a walking dead administration," said Claudio Couto at Fundacao Getulio Vargas, a Sao Paulo-based university.
A year ago, Temer took over Brazil's top office promising to restore Brazil's stability after Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed as president.
His opponents, led by Rousseff's Workers Party, are calling for early elections to replace Temer, whom they accuse of conspiring to replace Rousseff when he was her vice president.
Brazil's share and currency markets plunged Thursday. Investors had been counting on Temer to push through austerity reforms, including a hike in the minimum retirement age, to fix the economy.
A fresh presidential election before the end of the normal four-year term would require a constitutional amendment to be passed by a three-fifths majority in Congress.
ipj/gsw (Reuters, AP, AFP)