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Brazil's Temer defiant ahead of expected corruption charges

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Brasília (AFP)

Brazil's top prosecutor was expected soon to file corruption charges against President Michel Temer but the embattled conservative leader defiantly vowed Monday that nothing can "destroy" him.

Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot has until the end of Tuesday to file a request for charges with the Supreme Court. The lower house of Congress would then have to vote by a two thirds majority on whether to send Temer to trial, at which point he would be suspended for 180 days.

The charges, if confirmed, will sweep Temer into the forefront of a giant graft scandal that has engulfed Latin America's biggest country. Although several past Brazilian presidents are being probed for corruption, Temer would be the first sitting leader in the country to face criminal charges.

Janot is probing Temer for alleged bribe taking, obstruction of justice and membership of a criminal group.

According to Brazilian media reports, Janot may request charges piecemeal, with bribery the most likely first charge.

But Temer, in his first comments since arriving back from a trip to Russia and Norway, said that he had no intention to step down.

"There is no plan B," he said at a ceremony to sign a new bill in the capital Brasilia. "Nothing will destroy us -- not me and not our ministers," he said.

- Unpopular and under fire -

Temer's latest approval ratings are just seven percent, lower than his deeply unpopular leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff whom he replaced last year after she was impeached by his center-right congressional allies for breaking budgetary rules.

He took over, promising to restore political stability and to steer Brazil out of its deepest recession in history with market reforms. The political capital he needs for those reforms, including the hugely unpopular proposal to cut back generous pensions and to free up labor laws, is rapidly slipping away.

Temer so far is believed to have enough support in the lower house of Congress to defeat Janot's criminal charges and avoid trial.

Janot, however, is piling on the pressure and by separating the charges he would make sure that the crisis dragged on, weakening Temer's political base and making two thirds congressional approval for his trial more likely.

The bribery charge is linked to the arrest of a close former presidential aide with a suitcase stuffed with cash that prosecutors say was part of payments from JBS meatpacking executives to Temer.

Equally explosive is the allegation that Temer approved of a plan with Joesley Batista, owner of JBS parent company J&F, to pay hush money to a politician jailed for corruption.

Batista secretly recorded Temer in an allegedly compromising discussion and gave the recording to prosecutors in a plea bargain to secure leniency in his own corruption case.

In a further sign of Temer's weakening position, an important figure in his ruling coalition, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, called Monday for him to step down and help Brazil hold new elections.

It would be "a gesture of greatness," Cardoso wrote in Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.

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