SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian President Michel Temer gave his blessing to an attempt to pay a potential witness in the country's biggest-ever graft probe to remain silent, according to plea bargain testimony by a powerful businessman, newspaper O Globo reported on Wednesday.
Temer on Wednesday acknowledged he had met the businessman, JBS SA <JBSS3.SA> Chairman Joseley Batista, in March but denied any part in alleged efforts to keep jailed former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha from testifying.
According to the O Globo report, Batista allegedly recorded the discussion with Temer about hush money the executive paid to Cunha, according to the newspaper. The report did not say what Cunha was asked to keep quiet about.
When Batista told Temer he was paying Cunha to remain silent, the president was recorded saying, "You need to keep that up, okay?" according to the newspaper report, which did not identify a source for the information.
Cunha, once a powerful member of Temer's ruling party, has previously said he had compromising information about a host of senior politicians linked to a vast political bribery scandal at state oil firm Petrobras <PETR4.SA>.
O Globo reported that Batista and his brother, JBS Chief Executive Wesley Batista, presented the recording to prosecutors as part of plea bargain negotiations underway since March.
Temer's press representatives could not immediately be reached for comment. JBS, the world's biggest meatpacker, declined to comment. A senior JBS executive said there had been no formal communication about the matter within the company.
Senator Romero Juca, the head of the government's coalition in the Senate, said the accusation was one of many that would be investigated, but it would not slow Temer's efforts to pass a reform agenda aimed at closing a huge budget deficit and restoring investor confidence after a deep recession
The JBS executives' plea bargain agreement is being overseen by Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin, who is responsible for the bribery investigation known as Operation Car Wash. The agreement includes a fine of 225 million reais ($72 million), according to O Globo.
JBS, already struggling with a food safety scandal as well as a probe into loans it received from Brazil's state development bank, also hired a law firm to discuss a leniency deal with the U.S. Department of Justice, the newspaper reported.
($1 = 3.14 reais)
(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Alberto Alerigi Jr and Tatiana Bautzer in Sao Paulo, Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Editing by Dan Flynn and Andrew Hay)