Federal police officers in Brazil have raided homes belonging to the speaker of the lower house of congress, Eduardo Cunha, following judicial orders to confiscate documents that could be used in a corruption investigation against the opposition leader.
Officers also raided Cunha’s home in the early morning, as well as houses belonging to two other lawmakers and two ministers. Police said that a total of 53 search warrants were being executed.
Brazil’s public prosecutor, Luis Inacio Adams, has accused Cunha of taking USD$5mn in bribes between 2006 and 2012 in connection with the construction of two Petrobras drilling ships. Cunha could face charges of corruption and money laundering.
Prosecutors allege that the Petrobras scandal spanned over ten years and involved huge bribes as well as politically-charged appointments in return for inflated contracts. Petrobras is a state-run oil company and one of the largest energy companies in the world.
Dozens of other politicians, businessmen and civil servants have also been charged over the past year in connection with the Petrobras scheme, notably ex-president and current senator Fernando Collor de Mello. Brazil’s Supreme Court has taken on the case and leads proceedings.
Cunha has denied all accusations brought against him. When charges first surfaced months ago in August he vowed that he would remain in his post as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies even if he were indicted.
“I am not going to stand down in any way. I am going to carry on doing the job I was elected to do by the majority of the House,” he said.
However, hours after the raid yesterday, a congressional ethics panel voted to open an internal corruption probe against Cunha for allegedly lying about Swiss bank accounts that could be tied to the Petrobras scandal.
Cunha now has 10 days to present a written defence to the ethics panel. The panel then has three months to vote on whether the charges warrant Cunha’s removal, which would be brought before the full house for a vote.
Cunha is part of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) – a party split between allies and opponents of President Dilma Rousseff. He is leading the charge to impeach Rousseff and claims that the corruption accusations are politically motivated.
“Fifty-three warrants were executed—that is normal in an investigation,” he told reporters yesterday. “But it is very odd for that to happen the same day that the ethics committee was to rule on me. It is revenge. I am totally innocent.”
The impeachment process came to a halt last week on the 9th December after the Supreme Court suspended the impeachment commission for one week, citing irregularities. The court is expected to rule today whether to allow impeachment proceedings to move forward.