Brazil president's lawyers demand removal of top prosecutor

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Lawyers defending Brazilian President Michel Temer against corruption allegations asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to remove the prosecutor general from the investigation, arguing he is no longer fit to lead it.

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In a filing to the top court, Temer’s lawyers said Brazil’s top federal prosecutor Rodrigo Janot, who has charged the president with taking bribes and has said more charges are imminent, was acting “beyond his constitutional limits.”

“We are not, it has become clear, confronting mere institutional action,” Temer’s lawyers wrote in the document seen by Reuters. “Everything indicates that the motivation is personal.”

Janot’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The request will be decided by Supreme Court Justice Luiz Edson Fachin, the judge in charge of a massive investigation into political kickbacks. Legal experts said it was unlikely he would agree to remove Janot in the middle of the biggest corruption investigation in Brazilian history.

Temer, the first sitting Brazilian president to face formal corruption charges, got some relief last week when the lower house of Congress voted to block a bribery charge filed by Janot.

But Temer’s opponents hope a second or even third charge from Janot could be based on more solid evidence of Temer’s links to political bribes. That could push lawmakers to vote against protecting Temer from a trial as they worry about voters turning on them in next year’s elections.

Under Brazil’s constitution, any criminal charges leveled against a president must be approved by two-thirds of the lower house, and only then can the Supreme Court decide whether to put a leader on trial.

Temer was charged in June in connection with a graft scheme involving the world’s largest meatpacker, JBS SA. Executives said in plea-bargain testimony the president took bribes for resolving tax disputes, freeing up loans from state-run banks and other matters.

Janot alleged that Temer arranged to eventually receive a total of 38 million reais ($12.14 million) from JBS in the coming nine months.

The prosecutor has said on several occasions that he is likely to soon file obstruction of justice and racketeering charges against Temer.

The case against the president is part of an unprecedented anti-corruption push that Brazil’s federal police, prosecutors and some judges have pursuing for over three years.

Investigators have uncovered stunning levels of graft engulfing Brazil’s political and business elites. Much of it centers on companies paying billions of dollars in bribes to politicians and executives at state-run enterprises in return for lucrative contracts.

Temer and one-third of his cabinet, as well as four former presidents and dozens of lawmakers, are under investigation or already charged. More than 100 people have been convicted, including former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is free pending appeal.

($1 = 3.1290 reais)

Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Brad Haynes, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio