Brazil's federal police carried out sweeping raids early Tuesday in the homes and offices of top political figures ensnared in a massive corruption investigation. Among the targets was the speaker of the nation's lower house, who earlier this month introduced impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.
Dep. Eduardo Cunha is a bitter nemesis of Rousseff and faces federal charges of corruption for allegedly accepting at least $5 million in bribes linked to a sprawling kickback scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras.
As speaker of the house, Cunha had the power to allow the impeachment process against the president to begin - her government is accused of fiscal irregularities by using funds from state-run banks to cover budget gaps. Cunha for months has been the leader's biggest congressional roadblock to passing austerity measures to jumpstart the moribund economy and other legislation.
Cunha, who has denied any wrongdoing and says the millions investigators found in Swiss bank accounts and linked to him was made through business dealings, was not the only figure caught up in the raids, which saw police confiscating phones, computers, documents and other items but as yet not arresting anyone.
Also targeted were two government ministers and a senator - all members of Cunha's powerful Brazil Democratic Movement Party, known as the PMDB, which has served as the strongest member of the ruling Workers' Party coalition since it took the presidency in 2003, but which is split into factions that broadly support Rousseff or want to see her fall. Rousseff's vice president is the head of the PMDB and, should she be impeached, would likely take the presidency.
Tuesday's raids come during a tense week for Brazilian politics.
Cunha's fate as speaker of the lower house is being determined by an ethics committee of that body, which may rule this week on whether he should step down.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court may rule this week on the legality of how a special impeachment committee was formed last week in the House of Deputies. By Cunha's decree, it was created without any debate and by secret ballot, and so far its members are predominantly in favor of impeaching Rousseff.
If the impeachment measure is approved by that committee, it would then go to a full vote. If approved there by two-thirds of deputies, Rousseff may be removed from office for up to six months while the Senate decides whether she should be permanently removed, which would also require approval by two-thirds of senators.
However, the Senate President Renan Calheiros, a Rouseff ally and also a member of the PMDB, has put a motion before the Supreme Court arguing that the Senate must approve even the temporary removal of Rousseff should the impeachment measure get by the full house.
Most analysts expect the impeachment proceedings to make it out of the special committee but for the moment she appears to have just enough support in the lower house to quash the measure in a full vote. However, Brazil's political situation is fluid and highly influenced by the ongoing federal investigation into the Petrobras kickback scheme, in which Rousseff herself has never been implicated despite serving as chairwoman of the oil company's board for several years as the graft played out.
Federal prosecutors say the Petrobras scheme is the largest corruption case yet discovered in Brazil and has resulted in an unprecedented fight against impunity for the rich and powerful in a nation where few from the elite classes have ever been held accountable for crimes.
Over 100 people have been tossed in jail in connection to the case - including the heads of the nation's biggest construction and engineering firms, the founder of Latin America's biggest investment bank and top political figures, including a sitting senator who is a member of Rousseff's Workers' Party.