Brazil's tourism minister resigned on Thursday, less than two months before the country hosts the Olympics, as the government of interim President Michel Temer lost its third minister in a month to a sweeping graft probe of state oil company Petrobras.
Tourism Minister Henrique Alves was one of two dozen officials named in plea bargain testimony by a former Petrobras executive linking Temer and several of his closest allies to Brazil's biggest corruption scandal ever.
While Temer dismissed the accusations as frivolous lies, the latest ministerial resignation underscored the risks that come with the sweeping Petrobras probe, which has thrown Brazil's politics into chaos and deepened its worst recession in decades.
Sergio Machado, a former senator from Temer's party who ran the shipping arm of oil giant Petrobras for over a decade, was the latest in a string of politicians and executives who, when snagged by investigators, have flipped on friends and allies.
He told prosecutors that Alves, who served four decades as a congressman, had solicited 1.55 million Reais (US$450,000) in campaign funds from the scheme. Machado said the contributions were made legally but resulted from kickbacks owed by engineering companies that received Petrobras contracts.
Alves denied the accusation and said late on Wednesday on Twitter that contributions to his campaigns had been made through official channels and declared to election authorities.
His resignation adds to recent upheaval at the tourism ministry, where a global marketing campaign for the Olympics was held up for months because of a revolving door of ministers and secretaries caused by Brazil's political crisis.
I don't want to create embarrassments or any difficulties for the government, he said in a letter to Temer provided to journalists on Thursday, explaining that he had resigned to focus on defending himself from the accusations.
Temer also dismissed the graft allegations as dishonest and reckless, pledging in a national address on Thursday morning that his government would not be distracted from fiscal reforms aimed at reviving the economy.
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