Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Brazil impeachment leader arrested in corruption probe

Published:Friday | October 21, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Brazil's former President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha.

The powerful former speaker of Brazil's Lower House, who spearheaded the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff, was arrested Wednesday as part of a sprawling graft probe involving state oil giant Petrobras.

Federal Deputy Eduardo Cunha, who until recently was a key ally of new President Michel Temer, is accused of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion related to an oilfield purchase that Petrobras made in 2011 in the west African nation of Benin, among a series of other charges.

Prosecutors said in a statement that they requested Cunha's detention on the grounds that he represented a threat to the integrity of the investigation and was a flight risk. They also asked for bank accounts he holds totalling more than $60 million to be frozen.

Cunha was arrested in the capital, Brasilia, and was taken to the southern city of Curitiba, where judge Sergio Moro is presiding over many of the Petrobras cases. In a statement, the former lawmaker said the arrest was "absurd".

The ex-speaker faces multiple ongoing investigations and has been accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes for himself and other politicians. Cunha denies all the allegations and has said he is the target of a witch-hunt for being an adversary of Rousseff's Workers' Party.

Cunha launched impeachment proceedings against Rousseff in December when he was speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, accusing her of violating budget rules.

That led to a Senate vote to remove her from office in August. By that time, corruption allegations had already forced Cunha to resign as speaker. Last month, he was stripped of his congressional seat - along with the legal protections against prosecution that come with elected office in Brazil.

Cunha then began publicly criticising Temer, his erstwhile ally, and Cabinet officials. He announced he would write a tell-all book about the impeachment with the first excerpts to be published in November.

Swiss officials have confirmed bank accounts there in Cunha's name, with media reports putting their value in December at 2.4 million Swiss francs (US$2.5 million).

- AP