Brazil police raid homes of Speaker Cunha, ministers

Brazilian police raided the homes of Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha and two ministers on Tuesday as part of a massive corruption probe, dealing a blow to President Dilma Rousseff`s main coalition partner as it considers backing her impeachment.

Federal police said the raids on Cunha’s homes in Rio de Janeiro and the Brasilia capital were among 53 search-and-seizures carried out in seven states in the investigation, which centers on price-fixing and political kick-backs at state oil company Petrobras.

Most of the confirmed targets of Tuesday`s raids, including Cunha, belong to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. The PMDB, the country’s largest political party and a key member of Rousseff`s coalition, has been wavering in its support for the president, and its leader, Michel Temer, stands to take over if she is impeached.

GloboNews broadcast images of Cunha’s home in Brasilia surrounded by several police vans. The veteran lawmaker, a former Rousseff ally turned bitter political foe, remained inside the house, an aide told Reuters.

Cunha is at loggerheads with Rousseff after opening the impeachment proceedings against her on Dec. 2 over opposition allegations that she violated budget laws to increase spending during her re-election campaign last year.

The early morning raids also targeted the residences of Science Minister Celso Pansera, a close ally of Cunha, and Tourism Minister Henrique Eduardo Alves, a former parliamentary speaker and confidant of Temer.

The homes of ex-Mining and Energy Minister Edison Lobão and Lower House lawmaker Anibal Gomes were also searched. Lawyers for Gomes, Pansera and Lobão could not be reached for comment. The Tourism Ministry did not have an immediate comment.

The office of Brazil’s top prosecutor said a total of nine politicians were targeted with searches, as well as PMDB headquarters in Alagoas state, the powerbase of another party leader, Senate President Renan Calheiros.

The raids are likely to reinforce calls in Congress for Cunha’s resignation. The Lower House ethics committee was due to vote on Tuesday on proceeding with an investigation of whether Cunha for lied about Swiss bank accounts, after his supporters used procedural measures to stall the hearing for weeks.

“Any speaker in the same situation, anywhere in the world, would have already quit his post,” said House Representative Chico Alencar, from the leftist PSOL party.

Cunha’s lawyer said the raids showed police lacked evidence against his client.

IMPEACHMENT

Supreme Court justices will meet on Wednesday to define how Congress will deal with the impeachment hearings, which are expected to be a source of political wrangling for months even as Brazil sinks deeper into its worst recession since the early 1990s.

Police said Supreme Federal Court Justice Teori Zawascki gave the go-ahead for the searches as part of “Operation Car Wash,” an inquiry into alleged bribes for contracts at state-controlled companies, especially Petrobras.

“The impeachment process could be affected by the police raids as they targeted important leaders linked to the case, all from the PMDB party … which would be the main beneficiary of her ouster,” analysts with political risk consultancy Arko Advice wrote.

Cunha was charged in August with graft and money-laundering, becoming the first sitting politician to face prosecution from Operation Car Wash.

He unilaterally declared himself in opposition to Rousseff’s coalition in July and has put the brakes on the administration’s efforts to ease Brazil’s swelling fiscal shortfall by spurring the passage of bills ramping up spending.

Many Brazilians are less upset about Rousseff’s alleged budget violations than about the deepening economic downturn and the graft scandal at Petrobras that has discredited the political class.

Rousseff is not under investigation, but many question how she could not have known about the corruption as she chaired Petrobras from 2003 to 2010. Rousseff has denied any knowledge of the alleged graft and has called for a thorough investigation.

[Source:- Reauters]