Brasília (AFP) – Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer lost the third cabinet member of his month-old administration to a corruption scandal when his tourism minister resigned Thursday after being accused of taking bribes.
Tourism minister Henrique Eduardo Alves announced his resignation after a key witness accused him of accepting 1.5 million reals (around $445,000) diverted from state oil company Petrobras.
Alves, a member of Temer’s center-right PMDB party, said in an open letter he was stepping down to avoid “creating problems for the government.”
He joins former transparency minister Fabiano Silveira and former planning minister Romero Juca, who were both forced to resign over leaked phone recordings linked to the scandal.
Temer and Alves were among some 20 politicians named in the latest batch of allegations by Sergio Machado, the former chief executive of Petrobras subsidiary Transpetro.
Machado said in a plea deal with prosecutors that both men asked him for money from an illegal kickbacks scheme that diverted some $2 billion from the national oil giant.
Machado said Temer asked him for about $430,000 to fund an ally’s campaign for mayor of Sao Paulo, according to documents published Wednesday.
An irate Temer took to national television Thursday to deny the allegation.
He branded the allegations “frivolous, lying and criminal.”
– President indignant –
Temer took over last month from suspended president Dilma Rousseff. She is facing an impeachment trial in the Senate on unrelated charges of illegally manipulating public accounts to hide the government’s budget problems.
Temer has repeatedly denied involvement in the Petrobras scheme, but the investigation remains a major threat to his administration.
“I’m not going to let this pass,” he said on Thursday of Machado’s allegations.
“I am speaking out with indignant words to register yet again that this frivolity cannot prevail.”
The Senate is due to vote on whether to impeach Rousseff around mid-August, when Brazil will be hosting the Olympics in Rio.
If Rousseff is impeached and Temer survives the scandal, he would see out the current presidential mandate to the end of 2018. Elections are due to be held that year to choose a successor.
Brazil is in its worst recession in decades. The economy shrank 3.8 percent last year, according to official figures.
Temer’s government on Wednesday announced plans to limit public spending to strengthen the public finances of Latin America’s biggest economy.
Political analyst Andre Cesar of the consultancy Hold in Brasilia saw Alves’s resignation as a sign of “political fragility.”
“Temer’s government is walking on thin ice that could break at any moment,” he said.
For it to survive, Temer will have to avoid being directly implicated himself as well as fighting the economic crisis.
Aside from the recession, Brazil is struggling through a turbulent year of sharp political divisions. Various pro- and anti-Rousseff protests broke out in the weeks leading up to her suspension.
“If the government does not provide quick answers to the economic problems weighing on people’s wallets, people will lose patience and take to the streets again,” Cesar said.