Ex-Brazil president Michel Temer arrested in corruption probe

Former Brazilian President Michel Temer was arrested on Thursday on corruption charges, a dramatic development in a sprawling corruption probe that has roiled Brazil and has showed no sign of slowing.

Temer is one of 10 arrested in allegations of graft connected to a nuclear plant project

Brazil's Michel Temer just left office on Jan. 1, leading to speculation whether he'd face criminal charges given that he was no longer shielded as president from prosecution. (Gustavo Garello/Associated Press)

Former Brazilian President Michel Temer was arrested Thursday on corruption charges, a dramatic development in a sprawling corruption probe that has roiled Brazil and has showed no sign of slowing.

In a statement, the Prosecutors Office in Rio de Janeiro said that Judge Marcelo Breitas had issued an arrest order for Temer and Moreira Franco, a former minister and close ally of Temer, as well as eight others.

Construction company Engevix paid Temer bribes in exchange for a contract to build a nuclear power-plant in the city of Angra dos Reis in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro state, prosecutors alleged.

One of the Engevix executives told prosecutors in plea bargain testimony that he paid more than 1.1 million reals ($401,350 Cdn) to a company owned by a close Temer associate, Col. Joao Baptista Lima Filho. An arrest warrant was also issued for Filho.

Temer, who is 78, arrived at a police station in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, just hours after he was questioned at a police station at the Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo where he lives.

Asked about looming cases against him in December, Temer said he wasn't worried and did not believe he would be arrested.

"I'm calm. I am not the least bit worried," Temer said. "Those [charges] are such absurd things that a more objective and less passionate mind will see that and will say, 'those allegations are irrelevant.'"

Partial immunity ended 

In a statement, Temer's Brazilian Democratic Movement party called the arrest "hasty."

"The party hopes that the Justice Department re-establishes individual liberties and the presumption of innocence," it read.

Breitas is overseeing the Rio portion of a massive corruption probe involving kickbacks to politicians and public officials. Since launching in March 2014, the so-called Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation has led to the jailing of top businessmen and politicians, including ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In addition, public officials in Brazil have been ensnared in kickback probes involving the construction multinational Odebrecht and Petrobras, the state oil company.

Temer is shown during his inauguration on Jan. 1, 2011, as vice-president, along with then-president Dilma Rousseff, centre, and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Rousseff was indicted by Brazil's senate, while Lula is currently in prison for corruption charges. (Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press)

Temer, who was vice-president at the time, came to the presidency in 2016 after then-president Dilma Rousseff was impeached and ousted from office for mismanaging the federal budget.

From the get-go, Temer's administration was hit with several scandals, including some involving the president himself.

Three times, prosecutors charged Temer with corruption. Because he was a sitting president, he could only be tried if two-thirds of the lower chamber in Congress agreed. Temer twice mustered enough support in Congress to avoid prosecution and his term ended before the third case proceeded far enough for Congress to vote.

Temer left office on Jan. 1, giving way to right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, and no longer has the partial immunity that helped him avoid prosecution.

Breitas's decision to arrest Temer will go a long way to answering questions about the future of the probe.

"If Lula and Temer can go to jail, who cannot?" said Carlos Melo, political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo. "There are several formerly high-ranking politicians not in office at the moment, which makes them more exposed to police investigations."

With files from CBC News