Brazil Lower House Chief Charged With Corruption by Prosecutors

(Bloomberg) -- Brazilian public prosecutors pressed corruption charges against Chamber of Deputies chief Eduardo Cunha before the Supreme Court.

Cunha is accused of having received $5 million in a scheme of kickbacks at state-owned oil company Petrobras, according to a statement by the prosecutor-general’s office. Cunha previously denied the charges.

The formal accusations against Cunha weaken one of the principal opponents of President Dilma Rousseff. As head of the lower house, he decides whether impeachment hearings against Rousseff proceed. Now, politicians will focus on Cunha’s political survival, instead of Rousseff’s, said Gabriel Petrus, political analyst at business consulting firm Barral M Jorge.

“The impeachment discussion in Congress exits and the discussion over the future of Eduardo Cunha enters,” Petrus said before the widely reported charges were filed. “It doesn’t fix everything but the departure of Cunha would be a relief.”

Cunha, who split from the government in July, spearheaded some of the government’s main defeats in Congress.

When asked whether he would step down from his leadership role in the Lower House as a result of the charges, Cunha told Bloomberg News “obviously not.”

The so-called Carwash corruption probe has led to arrests of former division heads at state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, executives of the country’s largest construction companies and the former treasurer of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party Joao Vaccari Neto. Among the politicians under investigation are senators, former ministers, Cunha and Senate President Renan Calheiros.

In addition to Cunha, prosecutors on Thursday also brought charges against former legislator Solange Almeida for “passive corruption” in the same scheme.

Over the opposition of several congressional leaders, Rousseff this month nominated the chief public prosecutor spearheading the investigation, Rodrigo Janot, for a second term. Her popularity has plummeted to a record as the economy heads for its worst economic performance in 25 years.

-With assistance from Anna Edgerton in Brasilia.

To contact the reporters on this story: Raymond Colitt in Brasilia Newsroom at rcolitt@bloomberg.net; Arnaldo Galvao in Brasilia Newsroom at agalvao1@bloomberg.net; to contact the editors responsible for this story: Vivianne Rodrigues at vrodrigues3@bloomberg.net and Andre Soliani.

Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News.

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