The government of Brazil's acting president Michel Temer took a fresh hit on Monday as the anti-corruption minister resigned after a recording revealed him criticizing a probe into graft at state oil giant Petrobras, officials said.
Fabiano Silveira was the second minister to exit in the span of a week from Temer's government, which has only been in power for 18 days following the suspension of Dilma Rousseff for an impeachment trial.
In audio released by Globo television on Sunday night, Silveira was heard talking to Senate President Renan Calheiros and Sergio Machado, the president of Petrobras subsidiary Transpetro, both of whom are being investigated in the embezzlement probe.
In the recording, Silveira was heard saying that the prosecution in the case was "lost" and gave advice to Machado on how to protect himself from the investigation.
The recording was made in March when Silveira was serving on the National Council of Justice.
Brazilian media said Machado recorded the conversation, trading the information for leniency from prosecution.
The presidential palace's media office confirmed Silveira's resignation.
In his resignation letter, excerpts of which were published by Brazilian media, Silveira defended himself and said his remarks were "generic comments and simple opinion, amplified by the climate of political exasperation to which we all bear witness."
On Monday, officials from the Transparency Ministry, created by Temer to fight rampant corruption in Brazil, staged protests to call for Silveira's ouster.
Corruption watchdog Transparency International also called for Silveira to step down.
- Leaked recording -
His exit comes about one week after a main Temer ally, Romero Juca, was fired from his planning minister post after another leaked recording in which he apparently said impeaching Rousseff could be a way to derail the Petrobras probe.
The probe, codenamed Operation Car Wash, has seen investigations and prosecutions opened against dozens of politicians and executives -- a who's who of the business and political elite in Brazil -- including Juca.
Temer, who was vice president and took over from Rousseff after her suspension for an impeachment trial on May 12, is trying to push through economic reforms to pull Brazil out of deep recession.
It was Machado who was also speaking in the tape that led to the firing of Juca.
Machado is cooperating with prosecutors now and his testimony could snare other members of Temer's centrist PMDB party.
After Juca was fired last week, Temer said the probe into Petrobras would not only continue but that he himself plans to press for it to be even tougher.
Machado's appearance on the scene is also bad news for the Senate president Calheiros. It is in the Senate where in a few months Rousseff will stand trial on charges of cooking government books to make her budget look better in 2014 as she sought re-election.
In another conversation leaked last week, Calheiros is heard calling for changes in the law that lets people who confess to being part of the Petrobras scandal receive lighter sentences in exchange for details of the scheme.
These plea bargains were key to breaking open the scandal, in which bribes and kickbacks are estimated to have cost the company some $2 billion over the course of a decade.
The scandal fueled an atmosphere of grassroots fury over corruption and economic decay in a country that was the poster child for emerging economies just a few years ago, and helped lead to the collapse of support for Rousseff and her government.
Temer's replacing Rousseff has been messy. He triggered complaints immediately by appointing a cabinet made up exclusively of conservative white men, including three under investigation for the Petrobras scandal.
Temer, as part of his economic reforms, also tried to eliminate the cultural ministry but had to drop the plan amid a backlash from singers and artists that stretched as far as the Cannes film festival.