Michel Temer Brazil's corruption mess: perfect crime or comedy caper?

The cast of ruthless men in Brazil's corruption crisis inevitably prompts comparisons to the Netflix series "House of Cards." A slapstick crime caper could be as appropriate.

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A protest against political corruption scandals in Brazil on Tuesday placed 595 masks -- one for President Michel Temer and each legislator accused -- in front of Congress play

A protest against political corruption scandals in Brazil on Tuesday placed 595 masks -- one for President Michel Temer and each legislator accused -- in front of Congress

(AFP)
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The cast of ruthless men in Brazil's corruption crisis inevitably prompts comparisons to the Netflix series "House of Cards." A slapstick crime caper could be as appropriate.

There's no question that the scandal enveloping President Michel Temer is as dark as the American hit TV series, which features a scheming couple's inexorable rise to the White House.

If anything, Brazilians joke, their politicians make the fictional characters' shenanigans look tame.

But for all of Temer's allegedly rampant criminality -- taking huge bribes and conspiring to prevent an important politician jailed for corruption from talking to prosecutors -- the scandal is riddled with signs of amateurism.

It's a story of a late-night meeting, a secret recording, a failed dinner party, a man running down a Sao Paulo street with a cash-filled suitcase and -- this being Brazil -- a lot of online humor.

Bad habit

The plot starts with a fateful, suitably noirish meeting at 11:00 pm on March 7, when the boss of the world's biggest meat company, Joesley Batista, secretly recorded Temer allegedly giving the OK for hush money payments.

Given a chance to explain why he'd met at nearly midnight with a man already under another corruption investigation, Temer put his foot in it.

Batista had come desperate to discuss a rotten meat controversy, he told Folha newspaper. But his account had an obvious timeline problem: the controversy he spoke of hadn't yet happened by then.

As for his failure to register the meatpacker's visit to the presidential palace as required by law, Temer brushed it off, saying such meetings were "a habit."

In the view of the president of Latin America's most important economy and one of Brazil's wiliest politicians, his only sin was having been "naive."

Sad dinner

Placed under investigation, the alleged criminal mastermind fought back this weekend with one of his favorite weapons: the dinner party.

Temer hoped to break bread with politicians and get their reassurances that they were not seeking his impeachment. But his attempt fell flat when not enough invited guests -- many of them facing their own graft probes -- showed up.

The subsequent headline in the newspaper O Globo was perhaps the saddest of the last few days: "Temer's dinner canceled because of low response."

Meanwhile, Temer and his lawyers are doing all they can to question the veracity of the now-infamous audio recording. And although a seemingly technical matter, it has also produced its share of eyebrow-raising moments.

First, much of the audio -- prosecution exhibit number one in the biggest legal case on the South American continent -- is barely audible.

An expert commissioned by Temer's lawyers says the tape has been edited and therefore "inadmissible as evidence." He claims the supremely important secret recording was performed on a "crappy" device.

Adding to the intrigue, the device left the country with Batista, who has a residence in New York. It was sent back to prosecutors for expert analysis only on Tuesday -- "by first class," Globo television reported.

The suitcase of money

But nothing in the Temer saga can top the sight of a congressman named Rodrigo Rocha Loures, a longtime presidential aide, running from a pizza-restaurant parking lot to a taxi in Sao Paulo with a black suitcase containing 500,000 reais (about $152,500).

The cash had allegedly just been given to him by a contact from Batista's company, JBS.

Filmed by the police, the scene has been endlessly replayed on Globo television. But in yet-more unlikely twist, police lost track of the cash until Tuesday, when Loures himself brought it in.

Loures reportedly says he didn't know what was in the bag. Temer, for his part, says Loures fell victim to manipulation because he's "good natured."

Brazilians respond

For many depressed Brazilians, laughter is the best revenge.

Several jokes making the rounds on WhatsApp groups managed to combine with the country's other biggest obsession next to corruption -- football.

The Rio football club Flamengo's elimination from South America's Libertadores cup on the same day as the Temer revelations came out provided fodder for opposing fans.

One joke recounted in mock seriousness how teary-eyed Brazilians would one day tell their grandchildren about the momentous events... of Flamengo's defeat.

The country's successful national team coach, Tite, meanwhile had to issue an appeal for Brazilians to stop asking him to run for the presidency.

Another wisecrack popping up on messaging networks featured a fake Temer account saying "Temer has left the group."

But perhaps the best -- and certainly most accurate -- quip came from "House of Cards'" own Twitter account.

"Ta dificil competir," it said in Portuguese: "It's hard to compete."

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