SAO PAULO — Former Brazilian president Michel Temer was arrested Thursday, less than three months after he left office, as part of a sweeping corruption investigation that has brought down dozens of Brazil’s top politicians.
Prosecutors allege Temer led a sophisticated organized-crime ring that received $470 million in bribes.
Temer, 78, was charged with corruption and money laundering and stands accused of running a scheme that accepted bribes in return for lucrative government contracts involving a Brazilian power plant, prosecutors said.
Some of the money was allegedly paid through a $400,000 renovation of his daughter’s apartment, they said.
“He occupied the highest office in the country and committed the gravest crimes in the penal code,” federal prosecutor Eduardo El Hage told reporters in Rio de Janeiro. “Just because he’s a rich, white man does not mean we will be lenient given the crimes he committed inside the [presidential palace].”
Temer’s former minister of mines and energy, Moreira Franco, was also arrested.
Prosecutors said they were holding Temer in custody as he awaits trial because he attempted to obstruct justice. They accused him of monitoring and collecting personal information about his investigators.
Temer has consistently denied wrongdoing. He faces 10 counts — five for crimes allegedly committed while he was president.
The center-right politician took office in 2016 after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached for budget irregularities. Temer was succeeded in January by Jair Bolsonaro.
Temer is the latest figure ensnared by Operation Car Wash, in the most extensive corruption scandal in Latin American history. The investigation, which traced corruption from a carwash in Brasilia, the country’s capital, to the halls of Congress, has spread to a dozen countries and implicated scores of public officials.
Temer is the second Brazilian leader to be charged in the scandal. Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, arrested in April, is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption.
In 2017, Temer became the first sitting president charged with corruption.
Unpopular among voters but skilled at politics, he rallied allies in Congress to block a trial. (A sitting president may not be tried without the approval of Brazil’s lower house.) The vote spurred protests throughout Brazil.
Brazil’s markets sank on the news of Temer’s arrest, and hopes dimmed that the government would be able to pass austerity measures some say are necessary to revitalize the country’s economy.
Disgust with the high levels of corruption in Brasilia led voters to shun traditional candidates in last year’s election in favor of Bolsonaro, the former army captain and onetime fringe politician who vowed to crack down on official wrongdoing.
“Jail to all of those who dilapidated the wealth of the Brazilian people,” Sergio Gomes Olimpio, a senator from Bolsonaro’s party, said Thursday in a video posted on social media. “They have to pay now.”