Brazil minister rules out resigning on report he sought to halt graft probe

Reuters News
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Posted: May 23, 2016 8:40 AM

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Newly appointed Brazilian Planning Minister Romero Juca on Monday said he would not resign over a newspaper account saying he sought to stall a wide-ranging corruption probe centered on state-controlled oil company Petrobras, a newspaper reported.

The Folha de S. Paulo daily published purported excerpts of taped conversations between Juca and Sergio Machado, the former president of oil company Transpetro, reported to have been recorded in March.

Both Juca and Machado are under investigation in the two-year police probe sparked by corruption at Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

A spokeswoman for the chief prosecutor's office declined to comment on the report.

Juca is quoted in the newspaper's transcript as agreeing to a "national pact" to circumscribe the probe. He is quoted as saying he spoke with Supreme Court Justices and high-ranking military officials to ensure a "smooth transition" to a new government.

"We need to change the government to stop this bleeding," Juca was quoted as saying, after Machado is quoted as saying that chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot was "going after" Juca and his allies.

In a response to Folha later on Monday, Juca confirmed he had spoken to Machado. But he said his reference in the chat to "stop the bleeding" had no relation to the wide ranging Car Wash probe focused on Petobras. On the contrary he said he supported the anti-corruption probe.

Folha said the conversations were taped "secretly" but did not specify how. Juca said the conversation happened either at his home or at his office.

Juca is one of the most important members of the interim administration of President Michel Temer, who replaced Rousseff last month as she faced an impeachment trial. As Planning Minister, he is in charge of overseeing Brazil's budget and was leading conversations with congressmen to vote this week a new fiscal target for 2016 and avoid a government shutdown.

The leak may put pressure on Temer's newly inaugurated government, which Rousseff and her Workers party accuse of conspiring to illegally unseat her.

Police removed protesters from Temer's neighborhood in Sao Paulo on Sunday, one day after he reinstated the Culture Ministry to halt an outcry from some of the country's top artists.

(Reporting by Silvio Cascione Editing by W Simon)