Brazilian President Michel Temer said Thursday he will not resign after an explosive wiretap revealed that he had endorsed bribes to a powerful witness in order to keep him from speaking out on government corruption.
In his brief address, Temer called for a thorough investigation into the case.
"I repeat: I will not resign," he said, speaking in Brasilia. "I know what I did and I know I was right. I demand an immediate investigation."
Earlier on Thursday, the Federal Supreme Court approved an investigation into the president over the wiretap evidence, Brazil's O Globo reported.
Temer's comments came in response to a damning recording implicating him and other politicians in a corruption scheme that has served the heaviest blow to the scandal-plagued administration yet.
The tape, reported by O Globo Wednesday evening and released on Thursday, revealed that Temer had given his blessing to hefty bribes in the name of keeping a key witness, Eduardo Cunha, quiet in the country's largest-ever corruption investigation, known as Operation Car Wash. Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house, the chief mastermind behind the parliamentary coup against former President Dilma Rousseff and an ally of the unelected president, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in March for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.
Businessman Joesley Batista secretly recorded Temer while discussing a series of incriminating incidents, including providing monthly payments to Eduardo Cunha, former speaker of the lower house of representatives, and Lucio Funaro so that they would remain silent about dozens of embarrassing secrets.
According to Batista, Temer appeared to be satisfied with what was said, lowered his voice, and purportedly said, "Look, you've got to keep that up."
During the discussion, Batista could be heard saying, "I'm under investigation but haven't been condemned. (…) On one hand I took care of a judge. I gave him some assurance. Same thing with a substitute judge. I have a contact within the task force who's also providing me with information. And I also gave assurance to a prosecutor who's after me.” Temer's unconcern, almost complete concordance with what was being said was chilling.
Owners of the world's largest meat processing company, JBS, recorded the tape at a March 7 meeting with Temer and other politicians as part of an attempt to secure a plea bargain deal with prosecutors. The Supreme Court approved the plea bargain for Joesley and his brother Wesley Batista on Thursday after the release of the contents of the tape.
Ahead of Temer's address just after 4:00 p.m. local time, four members of his Cabinet — Minister of Defense Raul Jungmann, Minister of Culture Roberto Freire, Minister of Cities Bruno Araujo and Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes — said they planned to step down if Temer did not resign, Brazil's Estadao reported.
The expected Cabinet shake-up comes after the Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning to suspend Senator Aecio Neves and lower house lawmaker Rodrigo Rocha Loures, both Temer allies implicated in the latest wiretap in bribery schemes to cover up corruption.
Temer's administration has been embroiled in corruption scandals since being installed in power last year, but the Batista tape is perhaps the strongest blow to the stability of the unelected government yet, plunging the already highly unpopular executive deeper into crisis.
The news sparked calls for Temer's impeachment, halted debate on controversial neoliberal reforms and raised serious questions about the ability of the government to survive until the 2018 presidential election.