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Ethics Hearings Begin for Suspended Brazilian House Speaker

Brazil's suspended Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha listens to a questioner during an ethics committee hearing in parliament in Brasilia, Brazil, May 19, 2016.

The ethics committee of Brazil's lower house of parliament began hearings Thursday to question suspended House Speaker Eduardo Cunha about allegations that he hid millions of dollars in secret bank accounts.

Cunha was suspended this month after a Supreme Court decision against him, and the current hearings are designed to decide whether to oust him from the legislative body altogether.

Cunha faces charges of corruption and obstruction of justice, the result of allegations that he lied to lawmakers by denying he had money stashed in Swiss bank accounts. He repeated that assertion Thursday.

Swiss prosecutors say he had secret accounts at the Julius Baer bank worth about $5 million. Brazilian investigators believe those funds are linked to a corruption scheme involving Petrobras, the state-owned oil company.

Ironically, Cunha is the lawmaker who initiated the legal process that resulted last week in the impeachment and removal of Dilma Rousseff as president. She also was accused of corruption.

Interim President Michel Temer began his term last Friday as hundreds of Rousseff supporters continued street demonstrations. Regional leaders denounced the Senate's vote for an impeachment trial as a literal coup.

Temer, the former vice president, installed a business friendly cabinet hours after senators voted to temporarily remove Rousseff from power. Temer's government has the daunting challenge of pulling the country out of a deep recession and reforming the pension system.

Like Cunho and Rousseff, Temer is tainted by his ties to Petrobras, although he is not under investigation.