Eduardo Cunha had just engineered former President Dilma Rousseff's fall
(RIO DE JANEIRO) — The once powerful speaker of Congress’ lower house is the latest top politician to fall before the mammoth corruption scandals that have caused widespread anger among Brazilians.
In a 450-10 vote late Monday, the Chamber of Deputies stripped the congressional seat from Eduardo Cunha, who has been accused of corruption and obstruction of justice. Nine legislators abstained.
Although prosecutors allege Cunha received millions of dollars in bribes linked to the mammoth corruption case at state-run oil giant Petrobras, lawmakers considered only the issue of whether he had lied about having secret bank accounts in Switzerland.
Cunha, who said the accounts belonged to a trust, was pressured into resigning as speaker in July after the accounts came to light, but he had refused to give up his post as a lawmaker. He was in his fourth term and was considered one of the most powerful men in Brazil.
As speaker, Cunha was the main driver behind the impeachment process that led to the Senate trying left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff and removing her from office last month for allegedly violating fiscal rules to hide problems with the government’s budget.
Cunha has been a key ally of new President Michel Temer, who was Rousseff’s vice president, but after the vote he criticized Temer, saying his administration did not stand by him.
He blamed his removal on the impeachment of Rousseff.
“This was a political process because I kicked off the impeachment proceedings. They wanted a trophy,” Cunha said at a news conference.
“The current administration adopted the agenda of removing me from office,” he said, adding that he planned to publish a book telling about the behind-the-scenes dealings that led to the impeachment of Rousseff.
With the loss of his congressional seat, Cunha also loses a legislator’s partial immunity from prosecution. In Brazil, only the country’s Supreme Court can decide to charge and try federal lawmakers.
Now the corruption allegations against him will be investigated by a lower court judge seen as harsher than the top court, which was dealing with the cases until now.
Prosecutors accuse Cunha of corruption and money laundering for his role in negotiating Petrobras contracts for drill ships and say he received an illegal payment of $5 million.
Swiss prosecutors say Cunha held secret bank accounts at Julius Baer bank, with media reports putting their value in December at 2.4 million Swiss francs ($2.5 million). Brazilian investigators say Cunha also has had undeclared accounts in the U.S. since 1990 totaling more than $20 million. He denies any wrongdoing.
Against a backdrop of Brazil’s worst recession in decades, the Petrobras scandal has ensnared some of the country’s most powerful lawmakers and business executives. Prosecutors say a total of more than $2 billion was paid in bribes by companies to obtain inflated contracts from the energy company.
If he had remained speaker, Cunha would have been next in line for the presidency if anything happened to Temer.
He entered politics in the 1990s as a fundraiser for President Fernando Collor de Mello, the first Brazilian leader elected after military rule ended in 1985. Cunha’s power began to erode in the middle of last year after a plea bargain deal led to testimony linking him to multimillion-dollar Swiss bank accounts.