Brazil's ex-president Michel Temer was the leader of a "criminal organization" involved in embezzlement and money laundering over decades, the federal prosecutor alleged Thursday, after the former leader was arrested as part of a sprawling anti-corruption probe.
Brazil's former president (2016-2018) Michel Temer (C), arrives under police escort at the Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 21, 2019 after being arrested earlier in Sao Paulo as part of the sprawling 'Car Wash' anti-corruption probe. (Photo: VCG)
Police detained Temer, the 78-year-old predecessor of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, in Sao Paulo and transferred him to Rio de Janeiro -- the latest ex-leader of the Latin American country to be caught up in the so-called Car Wash investigation that has claimed scores of political and corporate scalps.
The investigation into Temer had uncovered "the existence of a criminal organization in full operation, involved in concrete acts of clear gravity," the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.
Former mines and energy minister Moreira Franco was also arrested along with several others.
Temer, Brazil's most unpopular leader ever, faced several corruption accusations on leaving office last year.
Brazil's Congress voted to dismiss two allegations in 2017, cementing his reputation as the ultimate survivor in one of the world's messiest and scandal-ridden democracies.
A third accusation was filed days before Bolsonaro's mandate started on January 1, leaving Congress no time to evaluate the charge.
"Justice is for everyone and everyone answers for their actions," Bolsonaro told reporters in Chile, where he is on an official visit.
The prosecutor's statement Thursday described a "sophisticated criminal system" which by the end of 2014 had made illicit payments of some one million reais (the equivalent of $500,000 at the time) in connection with the construction of a nuclear power plant that was never completed.
Investigations suggest the group may have committed "various crimes" with public agencies and state-owned companies involving 1.8 billion reais ($470 million), the statement said.
Starting as an investigation into money laundering at a car wash in the capital Brasilia in 2014, the probe expanded to uncover a vast graft operation involving state oil firm Petrobras and major construction companies and bribes to politicians of several parties.
More than 150 people have been convicted and hundreds more charged. The scale of the corruption uncovered has stunned Brazilians weary of graft among their leaders.