June 3, 2017 / 12:24 PM / in 2 months

Close aide to Brazil's Temer arrested in corruption probe

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Former Brazilian lawmaker Rodrigo Rocha Loures, a close aide and friend of President Michel Temer, was arrested at his home on Saturday in a corruption investigation that also targets the president, a federal police spokesman said.

In a police video released on May 19, Loures was seen running out of a Sao Paulo restaurant carrying a bag with 500,000 reais ($154,000) in cash that prosecutors say was a bribe from the owners of the world's largest meatpacker, JBS SA.

Plea-bargain testimony by two executives of JBS's holding company J&F Investimentos SA implicated Temer and other politicians in graft and led prosecutors to accuse Loures of being a middleman for Temer, which the president has denied.

Temer's office had no immediate comment on the arrest of his former aide.

The Supreme Court authorized the investigation of Temer and Rocha Loures for corruption, criminal organisation and obstruction of justice, triggering the worst political crisis since Temer took over from impeached leftist Dilma Rousseff last year.

Since the leaking of a recording of a late-night conversation with a JBS executive in which Temer appeared to condone corrupt practices, the president has faced calls for his resignation or impeachment.

An electoral court investigation of possible illegal campaign funding in Temer's 2014 election as vice president could also oust him from office.

Loures, a businessman-turned-politician, could seek a plea bargain, some sources in the prosecution team told Reuters this week. That could damage the president's case that he did nothing illegal.

Loures' lawyer, however, told Reuters on Saturday that his client will not seek a plea deal. "My orientation is against it, and his family supports that," the lawyer, Cezar Bitencourt, said.

Bitencourt called the arrest "unnecessary" and said it was part of a strategy by prosecutors to pressure Loures into opting for the plea bargain.

Last week, Loures turned over to police the cash-filled bag he was seen carrying in the leaked video. He has been investigated for allegedly negotiating 15 million reais in bribes from JBS.

Temer has said his relationship with Loures was purely "institutional."

Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassú in Brasilia and Marcelo Teixeira in Sao Paulo; Editing by Edmund Blair and Matthew Lewis

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