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Brazil Police Detain Impeachment Mastermind Cunha for Graft

Updated on
  • Judge in Carwash probe authorizes detention of ex-speaker
  • Opposition say plea bargain could destabilize government

Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress who led the drive to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, was detained by federal police on Wednesday as part of a massive corruption probe.

Cunha faces charges of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion and has been cited in multiple investigations. The former deputy has repeatedly denied the charges against him. In a Facebook comment posted after his detention he said his lawyers would challenge the "absurd" decision.

The detention of one of Brazil’s most powerful politicians, who last year initiated the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, has sent shock-waves through capital city Brasilia. Last month Cunha was stripped of his mandate for lying to Congress about his offshore bank accounts. He subsequently promised to write a book revealing the inner workings of Brazilian politics. Some fear that his revelations could implicate senior members of President Michel Temer’s cabinet, and possibly even the president himself. 

Local media dubbed the experienced politician a "walking time bomb" for his potential to retaliate against former colleagues. 

Alessandro Molon, an opposition lawmaker, said that Cunha’s detention "will result in a plea-bargaining testimony that could destabilize the Temer government". But members of the ruling coalition insisted that the latest development would have no impact on the government’s reform agenda. 

Both Cunha and Temer are members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. Temer’s press office declined to comment to an emailed request about Cunha’s arrest.

Fox in charge of the hen house

In an interview in September, Cunha accused Moreira Franco, one of Temer’s closest advisers and the secretary of his privatization program, of "irregularities" in previous infrastructure projects. Putting Franco in charge of public auction is like having "a fox in charge of the hen house," Cunha wrote this week on Twitter.

On Wednesday Cunha’s lawyer, Ticiano Pinheiro, told Bloomberg that his client would not seek a plea bargain deal with prosecutors. He said that there are no new facts to justify the detention and he will appeal against the order.

Sergio Moro, the federal judge who has spearheaded the so-called Carwash corruption investigation, signed the warrant authorizing the preventative detention of Cunha, citing concerns the former house speaker would interfere with the investigation or flee the country. 

The case was sent to Moro’s federal court in the southern city of Curitiba last month after Cunha lost his congressional seat. Lawmakers in Brazil can only be tried by the Supreme Court, so losing his mandate meant that he no longer had special judicial status.

— With assistance by Rachel Gamarski, Sabrina Valle, Samy Adghirni, and Mario Sergio Lima

(Updates with details on possible plea-bargaining testimony in fifth paragraph.)
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