Brazil Supreme Court Opens Case Against Lower House Speaker

  • All justices who participated in proceedings voted to indict
  • Speaker Eduardo Cunha has repeatedly denied wrongdoing

Brazil’s Supreme Court decided to open a criminal case against lower house speaker and leading government critic Eduardo Cunha, increasing pressure for his removal from office.

Ten Supreme Court justices voted on Wednesday and Thursday to indict the speaker. The court’s 11th justice didn’t participate in the proceedings.

Prosecutor-general Rodrigo Janot asked the justices to open the case on allegations that Cunha received $5 million-worth of kickbacks in a scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras. The congressman has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and accuses the government and investigators of singling him out as part of a smear campaign.

Cunha will defend himself against those charges in the Supreme Court. Other allegations, as well as his future as house speaker, will be analyzed by the justices at a later date. In Congress, Cunha also faces an ethics committee that has decided to investigate him for alleged unethical behavior. That probe also could cost him his mandate.

The investigation into the house speaker is part of a sweeping corruption scandal known as Carwash. The two-year probe is focused on allegations that company executives offered politicians kickbacks in exchange for contracts at state-run companies.

President Dilma Rousseff stands to benefit from Cunha’s misfortunes, as they may weaken him politically at a time when he is leading the charge to derail her agenda in Congress. Cunha has the power to set the voting agenda in the lower house, a prerogative he often uses to create obstacles to Rousseff’s fiscal-austerity measures.

The lower house speaker opened impeachment proceedings against the president late last year after breaking ties with her administration, despite being a member of the largest party in the ruling coalition.

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