Brazil Prosecutor Asks Top Court to Suspend Lower House Speaker

  • Legislator used position for personal gain, prosecutor alleges
  • Cunha says move is effort to divert attention from impeachment

Brazil’s public prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to suspend the lower house speaker from his activities as a legislator, in a move that may stall impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.

Prosecutor-general Rodrigo Janot made the request Wednesday, saying Eduardo Cunha used his position for “personal benefit and illicit acts," according to a statement from Janot’s office. Cunha told reporters in Brasilia the prosecutor’s move was "absurd" and an attempt to distract the country from the impeachment process.

The lower house speaker has become a leading foe of the administration this year and early this month opened impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Since then the two politicians have traded barbs as they try to paint each other as dishonest.

Janot’s request comes the day after police searched Cunha’s homes and offices, and a congressional ethics committee voted to investigate the speaker over allegations he lied to Congress about holding bank accounts abroad. Cunha has denied any wrongdoing.

Public prosecutors pressed charged against Cunha in August, accusing him of receiving at least $5 million in a kickback scheme at state-owned oil company Petrobras. Prosecutors said in September Swiss authorities had transferred to Brazil documents from a money-laundering probe against Cunha. The documents indicate he and his family members hold accounts in Swiss banks. Cunha says the accounts aren’t his and are held by a trust.

Rousseff this year appointed Janot for another term as head prosecutor, selecting him from a short list offered up by a group of his peers. The Supreme Court’s press office said late Wednesday it didn’t yet have information on Janot’s request.

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