Brazilian President Michel Temer has described accusations that he received millions of dollars in bribes as "fiction." He could now face trial over the charges and become the second leader removed from office in a year.
Temer made a nationally-televised speech hours after being formally charged with corruption, calling the allegations "a soap opera plot," adding that he had "never received a cent."
The conservative leader said executives of the world's biggest meatpacker, JBS, who accused him in
plea-bargain testimony of arranging to take 38 million reais ($11.47 million, 101 million euros) in bribes, did so only to escape jail for their own crimes.
First of many charges?
Temer was formally accused of corruption on Monday in what is expected to be the first in a series of criminal charges against the unpopular leader.
The bribery charge is linked a wider corruption scandal surrounding JBS and the arrest of a close former presidential aide caught carrying a suitcase stuffed with 500,000 reais in cash that prosecutors say was part of payments from the meatpacker's executives to Temer.
Janot accused Temer not only of corruption but also of obstruction of justice and being involved in organized crime
Under Brazilian law, the country's lower house of congress must now vote on whether to try a sitting president.
Lawmakers within Temer's coalition are confident they have enough votes to block the two-third majority required to proceed with a trial.
If two-thirds of the lower house decides to try Temer, he will be suspended for up to 180 days while his trial is conducted. House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, an ally of Temer, would then be interim president.
Brazil's top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot had opened an investigation against Temer last month for corruption, obstruction of justice and being part of a criminal organization.
Temer has also been recorded in conversation with Joesly Batista, former chairman of JBS, endorsing hush money for former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally who is serving a 15-year sentence for corruption. Batista gave the secretly recorded tape to prosecutors as part of a plea deal.
"The circumstances of this meeting (with Batista) - at night and without any register in the official schedule of the president of the Republic - reveal the intent of not leaving traces of the criminal actions already taken," Janot wrote in a 64-page document accusing the president.
Janot said Temer may have received as much as $12 million in bribes over the past nine months.
Temer has denied wrongdoing and said the tapes were tampered with.
The accusation marks the first time that a sitting president in Latin America's largest nation has faced criminal charges.
Earlier this month, Temer batted away illegal campaign financing allegations after the electoral court dismissed a case that could have removed him from office.
He came to power last year after former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached by her center-right rivals for violating budget laws, in what her leftist allies dubbed a coup.
A third of Temer's cabinet and dozens of members of congress are being investigated for corruption. Brazil has been rocked by more than three-years of sprawling corruption investigations in politics and business that have fueled public anger and protests.
Most of the investigations are tied to politicians and executives at state-run companies receiving bribes in exchange for contracts. More than 90 people have been convicted.
cw,mm/csw (AP, AFP Reuters, dpa)