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RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s Supreme Court has authorised a probe into whether President Michel Temer was involved in paying hush money to a powerful politician jailed for corruption, local media reported on Thursday.

If confirmed, the reports in O Globo, Estadao and Valor Economico would mark a new escalation of the political crisis gripping Latin America’s biggest country.

A report in Globo on Wednesday said that Temer had been secretly recorded agreeing to paying money to former house speaker Eduardo Cunha, who is in prison after being convicted of taking millions of dollars in bribes. The recording is now part of evidence being examined by investigators, the report said.

The Supreme Court, which oversees probes into sitting politicians, did not respond to requests for comment.

As a current president, Temer cannot be prosecuted for alleged crimes prior to his mandate. However, the alleged hush money incident took place just this March, Globo reported.

Temer’s office denied anything illegal took place in a written statement late on Wednesday. However the president was reported to have asked the Supreme Court immediately to release the contents of the secret recording so that he could respond in a public address pencilled in for later Thursday.

Allies of Temer in Congress said his coalition was in danger of collapse and opponents demanded his resignation. Temer took over the presidency a year ago after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff for having illegally manipulated government accounts to mask the depth of Brazil’s recession.

Since then, a giant embezzlement and bribery scandal has been gathering pace, with scores of top politicians under investigation.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017