June 3, 2017 / 12:26 PM / 3 months ago

Close aide to Brazil's leader Temer arrested in corruption inquiry

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 in May, 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 Rocha Loures of being a middleman for Temer, which the president has denied.

The Supreme Court authorized the investigation of Temer and Rocha Loures for corruption, criminal organization 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 he appeared to condone corrupt practices, Temer has faced calls for his resignation or impeachment.

An electoral court investigation of his 2014 election for illegal campaign funding could also oust him from office.

Loures, a businessman turned politician, is expected to seek a plea bargain with prosecutors that could damage the president's case that he did nothing illegal.

Loures has hired a lawyer to prepare a plea bargain, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Last week, he turned over a bag full of cash to police, apparently as a step to reaching agreement with prosecutors, who are investigating him for negotiating 15 million reais in bribes from JBS.

It was not immediately possible to reach the lawyer of Loures. Temer's office had no immediate comment on the arrest of his former aide.

Temer has said his relationship with Loures was purely "institutional" yet Loures had an office in the presidential palace close to Temer when he was Rousseff's vice president.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassú; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Edmund Blair

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