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Brazil's Former Speaker Stripped of Seat Over Swiss Accounts


FILE - Brazil's former President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha speaks during the presentation of his defense in the Chamber of Deputies, in Brasilia, July 12, 2016.
FILE - Brazil's former President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha speaks during the presentation of his defense in the Chamber of Deputies, in Brasilia, July 12, 2016.

Two weeks after the removal of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil's president, the lower house of Congress on Monday expelled the lawmaker who engineered her impeachment for lying about secret bank accounts in Switzerland.

The once powerful former speaker Eduardo Cunha, who has been charged with corruption by the Supreme Court, was banned from politics for eight years and faces arrest now he has lost his congressional prerogatives.

The chamber voted overwhelmingly 450-10 to strip him of his seat.

"This shows that Brazil will no longer tolerate a politician who turned Congress into a business counter for bribes and favors," said lawmaker Rubens Bueno of the Popular Socialist Party. Bueno said Cunha took kickbacks from companies and instructed them to donate to the campaigns of his allies.

Cunha's downfall has many politicians worried because he has threatened to bring down others by revealing cases of corruption that could endanger members of the government of Brazil's new President Michel Temer and derail his fiscal reform agenda.

Cunha has warned he could tell all in a plea bargain that could compromise many in a discredited political establishment, where 50 politicians are already under investigation for taking kickbacks in the Petrobras scandal.

In all, about 60 percent of the 513 lawmakers in Brazil's lower house are under investigation for various allegations, according to watchdog group Transparency Brazil.

Cunha has been charged by the Supreme Court for allegedly taking a $5 million bribe on a drill ship contract for state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA and for having undeclared Swiss bank accounts.

"I did not lie. Where is the proof? Where are the account numbers?" Cunha asked his peers, appearing in the house to repeat his defense argument that his assets were held in trust funds over which he had no control.

An ethics committee report read out to the chamber said the existence of his accounts and assets abroad was fully proven.

Dozens of lawmakers who Cunha helped elect had sought to delay the committee hearings and managed to drag out the case for over 10 months. Shortly after hearings began in December, Cunha launched the impeachment process against Rousseff, who was removed from office by the Senate on August 31 for breaking budgetary rules and decreeing public spending without Congressional approval.

Rousseff argued that her impeachment was revenge by Cunha for her Workers Party's refusal to save him from the ethics probe that ultimately brought him down.

Cunha is the only sitting Brazilian lawmaker to face trial so far in a massive bribery investigation focused on Petrobras and other state-run enterprises where engineering companies siphoned off funds from overpriced contracts to pay bribes to executives and kickbacks to politicians in Rousseff's governing coalition.

The office of Brazil's top prosecutor, which earlier this year asked for Cunha's arrest for using his speakership to obstruct investigations, says Cunha faces nine other corruption accusations.

Bueno said the action against Cunha showed Congress was finally responding to the demands of Brazilians for cleaner politics.

Some analysts regarded the removal of a politician who was third in the line of succession for the presidency as step forward in Brazil's struggle to clean up widespread graft.

"It shows that even the most powerful man in Congress can be brought down by corruption and other missteps," said David Fleischer, politics professor emeritus at the University of Brasilia.

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