Brazil parliament speaker suspended in corruption inquiry

Eduardo Cunha was prime mover behind the effort to impeach President Dilma Rousseff

Eduardo Cunha, speaker of Brazil’s lower house of congress,  who has been temporarily suspended from office. He faces multiple accusations of corruption. Photograph:  Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Eduardo Cunha, speaker of Brazil’s lower house of congress, who has been temporarily suspended from office. He faces multiple accusations of corruption. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

 

A supreme court justice has temporarily suspended from office the speaker of Brazil’s lower house of congress Eduardo Cunha, threatening the political future of the prime mover behind the effort to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.

The decision on Thursday follows mounting pressure on the court to move against one of Brazil’s most despised public figures following his success in shepherding a motion to impeach Ms Rousseff through the lower house last month.

Constitutionally Mr Cunha would have been promoted to next in line to the presidency if, as expected, Ms Rousseff is suspended from office next week by the senate and her vice-president Michel Temer is sworn in as her replacement.

Horrified by the prospect of Mr Cunha serving as acting president should Mr Temer travel outside Brazil, political parties and federal prosecutors stepped up their campaign for the supreme court to act on the multiple accusations of corruption levelled against the evangelical Christian politician.

In response to these pleas supreme court justice Teori Zavascki accepted a request filed last December by federal prosecutors demanding Mr Cunha be stripped of his mandate.

Brazil’s chief federal prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has classified Mr Cunha as a “deliquent” and identified 11 cases which demonstrate how he used his office to “intimidate parliamentarians, defendants, collaborators, lawyers and public agents with the objective of hindering and retarding investigations” into the allegations against him.

Revenge

A full session of the court was set to debate Zavascki’s temporary ruling on Thursday evening, meaning Mr Cunha could lose his job before his arch-rival Ms Rousseff loses hers.

He is already facing trial before the supreme court over accusations he accepted $5 million (€4.4 million) in bribes related to contracts of the state-run oil firm Petrobras. He launched the impeachment effort in revenge for the failure by Ms Rousseff’s Workers Party’s to help protect him after he was caught lying about hiding the money in Swiss bank accounts.

Despite his own high disapproval ratings Mr Cunha comfortably ensured the impeachment motion passed, aided by widespread public anger at Ms Rousseff’s disastrous handling of the economy and her party’s own involvement in the Petrobras scandal.

Earlier this week Mr Janot asked the supreme court to open an investigation into claims that Ms Rousseff also tried to impede the Petrobras probe. She vehemently denies the charges which are based on plea-bargain testimony given by her government’s former leader in the senate.

The chief prosecutor also charged Ms Rousseff’s mentor, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with obstructing justice. Mr Janot said the huge corruption scheme discovered inside Petrobras “could never have functioned for so many years and in such an ample and aggressive manner... without the participation of ex-president Lula”.