Brazilian congressman Eduardo Cunha, who led the drive to impeach Dilma Rousseff, stepped down as lower house speaker on Thursday following allegations of corruption.
He announced his decision in a press conference in Brasilia, at times choking up with emotion, saying his decision would help ease the political instability that has rocked Latin America’s largest economy for the past year. His resignation will allow the lower house to hold elections for a new speaker as soon as next week.
The Supreme Court had already suspended Cunha as speaker after it opened a criminal case against him earlier this year on charges of accepting kickbacks. A congressional ethics committee in mid-June recommended the lower house remove him from office following allegations that he lied about the presence of a Swiss bank account used to hide dirty money. The full chamber hasn’t yet held a vote on the matter.
Cunha is still a member of Congress, which means only the Supreme Court -- not a federal judge -- can charge him. That could provide him with some respite, as the top court often takes longer to rule and sentence than its federal counterparts. Cunha has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and said Thursday he’s being punished for leading the impeachment process against Rousseff.
The investigation into Cunha is part of a sweeping probe known as Car Wash into graft at state-run companies. The scandal has rattled Brazil’s establishment, destabilizing Rousseff’s administration just before it fell as well as that of her successor, Michel Temer. With less than two months in office, Temer has seen three of his ministers resign after they were accused of either participating in the graft or trying to obstruct the investigation. All three denied wrongdoing.
Cunha, a member of Temer’s political party, was a leading critic of Rousseff and opened the impeachment process against her in the lower house last year. The Senate is expected to make a final decision on impeachment in August. Political consulting firm Eurasia Group wrote in a note Thursday there’s a 90 percent chance the chamber will vote against Rousseff and permanently remove her from office.