• Committee appoints Fausto Pinato to investigate misconduct
  • Hearings could result in Cunha's removal from Congress

Brazil’s lower house speaker, the only lawmaker with the power to open impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, may have received a boost when a lawmaker whose party supported his election was chosen to lead an ethics inquiry against him.

Congressman Fausto Pinato was appointed Wednesday to lead the lower house ethics committee’s probe into accusations that the chamber’s president, Eduardo Cunha, hid assets and lied about having a bank account outside Brazil.

“I chose Pinato because I’m sure his party won’t interfere” with the investigation, said committee President Jose Carlos Araujo.

Pinato’s party backed Cunha’s election as house speaker in February. He won the committee spot over Jose Geraldo, a member of the ruling Workers’ Party who said on Tuesday that there is strong evidence against Cunha. Pinato belongs to the Brazilian Republican Party, which is close to the evangelical Universal Church. Cunha also is an evangelical Christian.

Yet Pinato told reporters Thursday he is "independent from Cunha" and will “lead the probe with justice, independence and transparency.” 

Denies Wrongdoing

The committee has three months to vote on Cunha. Their recommendation goes to the house floor for a vote that could result in his ouster from Congress. Media reports in recent months allege Cunha accepted bribes and held the proceeds in Switzerland to finance a lavish lifestyle. Cunha, 57, denies wrongdoing.

Cunha in July said he would join Rousseff’s opposition even though his PMDB party is the largest member of the ruling coalition. Since then he has spearheaded some of the president’s most devastating defeats in Congress, including approval of a bill to boost social-security spending that threatens to swell the budget deficit.

Cunha said he will decide this month whether to accept one of the impeachment pleas against Rousseff, which are based on allegations ranging from doctoring the federal budget to illegal campaign financing. Rousseff, whose disapproval ratings has increased to a record high, says there is no justification to remove her from office.

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