June 17, 2017 / 2:02 PM / 3 months ago

Brazil's Temer led graft scheme, billionaire tells Época magazine

Brazilian President Michel Temer attends a ceremony of the 152nd anniversary of the Riachuelo Naval Battle at the Marine Corps Headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino - RTS16FMH

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian President Michel Temer led a corruption scheme in which lawmakers squeezed high-profile executives for bribes, billionaire Joesley Batista told magazine Época in an interview published on Saturday.

In his first interview since striking a leniency agreement with Brazilian prosecutors, Batista told Época that Temer asked for money several times since 2010. Batista told the magazine that Temer led a group of senior politicians regularly demanding kickbacks in exchange for political favors.

Former speakers Eduardo Cunha and Henrique Eduardo Alves, as well as Temer’s current chief of staff Eliseu Padilha and Cabinet Minister Wellington Moreira Franco, participated in Temer’s scheme, Batista said in the interview.

“Temer is the leader of a lower house criminal organization,” Época quoted Batista as saying. “Those who are not under arrest are in the government. They’re very dangerous.”

Temer’s media office declined to comment. Press representatives for Batista and his family’s investment holding company, J&F Investimentos SA, were not immediately available for comment.

Efforts to reach the lawyers of Cunha, Alves, Moreira Franco and Padilha were unsuccessful.

The comments took Batista’s accusations against Temer a bit further since the billionaire entrepreneur told prosecutors that Temer worked to obstruct an ongoing corruption investigation as president.

Last week, Temer escaped the threat of ouster after Brazil’s top electoral court dismissed a case over alleged illegal campaign funding for the 2014 election - in which he ran on the same ticket of former President Dilma Rousseff.

Rousseff was impeached last year on accusation she oversaw the doctoring of budget accounts.

J&F agreed to pay a record-setting 10.3 billion-real ($3.1 billion) leniency fine, after Joesley Batista and his brother Wesley admitted to bribing almost 1,900 politicians in recent years. J&F-controlled JBS SA, the world’s No. 1 meatpacker, is being investigated for alleged insider trading ahead of the announcement of the Batista family’s leniency deal.

Batista denied having ordered insider trades at JBS, according to the Época interview, adding that he believed they were all made in line with the law.

He said J&F will sell “as many assets as necessary” to quash concerns about the group’s solvency. J&F diversified from meatpacking in recent years, expanding into fashion, home cleaning, banking and pulpmaking with the help of state loans, prosecutors said.

Writing by Bruno Federowski; Editing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Leslie Adler

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