Brazil court seizes house speaker's alleged kickback cash

AP News
|
Posted: Oct 23, 2015 7:24 PM
Brazil court seizes house speaker's alleged kickback cash

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil Supreme Court seized $2.45 million in Swiss accounts allegedly belonging to the speaker of Brazil's lower house of congress, a powerful political figure who can largely determine whether widely sought impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff are introduced on the chamber floor.

Eduardo Cunha, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, is facing corruption charges in a huge kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras. He is accused of accepting millions in bribes in arranging for companies to win building contracts with Petrobras.

Cunha, a self-proclaimed enemy of Rousseff, denies that the accounts in the Julius Baer bank are his. But documents sent by Swiss prosecutors link him and his wife to the money, Justice Teori Zavascki wrote in his Thursday decision to seize the funds.

If investigations show Cunha's accounts were filled by cash coming from corruption schemes, the funds will be returned to Brazil's treasury. The request to seize the money was made by Brazilian Attorney General Rodrigo Janot, who Cunha accuses of targeting him because of the speaker's opposition to Rousseff.

Federal prosecutors say the Petrobras kickback scandal is the largest ever uncovered in Brazil, with over $2 billion paid in bribes to politically appointed executives at the company along with upward of 50 sitting politicians and others in the political class who allegedly took part in the scheme that ran for over a decade. CEOs and other executives from top construction and engineering firms who allegedly took part are in prison.

Rousseff herself served as chairwoman of Petrobras during much of the time the graft played out, but as so far has not been implicated in the scandal.

Still, the president, with approval ratings hovering around just 10 percent, is fending off widespread calls for her impeachment or for her resignation over the Petrobras scandal, allegations of fiscal wrongdoing during her first term in office and allegations the campaign coffers for her re-election run last year were stuffed with kickback money.

Despite the corruption charges facing Cunha, he is "likely to stay in office" for a while, said Claudio Couto, a political science professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

Couto said the opposition wants Cunha to stay around to start an impeachment process against Rousseff, while the president's allies fear that if they try too aggressively to push him from office he will do just that.