BRASÍLIA, Brazil – Eduardo Cunha, the former head of the Chamber of Deputies and the leader of the effort that ousted the democratically elected Dilma Rousseff, has been officially removed from his post through a vote by his fellow politicians for his role in the massive Petrobras corruption case.
Cunha was temporarily removed from his position as the President of the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of Congress) in mid-May due to allegations of corruption and obstruction of justice.
After several weeks of being investigated by the Ethics Committee (a parliamentary panel) for lying about his role in the Petrobras scandal and about having illegal, multi-million dollar accounts abroad in Switzerland and embezzling millions more with his wife Cláudia Cruz, the panel voted in June that Cunha should be stripped of his position as a Federal Deputy.
The 513-seat Chamber of Deputies was due to vote in August on whether to take this action against Cunha. A simple majority (257) was needed in order to see him removed from the position permanently and banned from serving in a political capacity for at least eight years.
Although Cunha had claimed innocence and said that he was being targeted unfairly by a biased group of politicians, he announced his resignation from the post in July by reading a prepared statement on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies.
Cunha said that he had finally decided to “give in to pressure” because the “Brazilian Congress is leaderless in the midst of a strange situation” and that the “only way to stabilize” the country’s legislative branch was to “resign immediately.”
Even though he did step down voluntarily, he only stepped down as the President of the Chamber of Deputies and not as a Federal Deputy for the State of Rio de Janeiro.
On Tuesday, however, the vote to strip him of the post officially (and of political immunity) still took place, albeit several weeks later than planned. With a small number of abstentions, the Chamber of Deputies voted to remove Cunha by a vote of 450 in favor and only 10 against.
With the vote, the manipulative long-time economist, radio host and politician lost his position despite his skill for maneuvering political processes, establishing complex and sometimes unlikely alliances within Congress, surviving government changes and evading repeated corruption charges (until now).
In fact, the treasurer of a campaign in which Cunha assisted in the early 1990s called him a ‘papabiru,’ a mixture of ‘papagaio’ (Portuguese for parrot) for his prominent nose and ‘gabiru’ (Portuguese for a type of highly intelligent rat that avoids all the traps and stays inside the house to feast).
Cunha, an Evangelical Christian pastor who owns hundreds of internet domain names that feature the name “Jesus” and a known hardline conservative on social issues, was implicated in the massive corruption investigation named Operation Lava Jato.
The investigation has focused on the Petrobras scandal, in which prosecutors allege that over $1 billion was doled out and laundered by the semi-state-owned energy company’s executives to politicians in exchange for valuable public contracts with construction and engineering companies.
Cunha is the man that started the effort to impeach President Dilma Rousseff in December of 2015 by digging up an old report made by three lawyers that outlined the now-former leader’s budgetary moves, and he did so because the parliamentarians of Rousseff’s center-left Workers’ Party (PT) would not acquiesce to his request for them to vote against the investigation into his wrongdoings (which led to his suspension in May).
The wrongdoings in question include lying about his role in accepting bribes in the Petrobras scandal and about having illegal, multi-million dollar accounts abroad in Switzerland and embezzling millions more with his wife Cláudia Cruz. Furthermore, he is accused of taking a vacation with his family to Miami during which he spent nearly $50,000 of public money in just 9 days.
With his removal from the Chamber of Deputies, Cunha has not only lost his seat but he has also lost the political immunity that comes with said seat. As such, he has now opened himself to face at least four different trials stemming from the aforementioned charges.
Cunha’s troubles could soon become the troubles of many other politicians: due to his tireless networking and countless alliances, Cunha has formed partnerships with hundreds of other politicians, many of whom are corrupt, and given that almost every one of them voted for his removal, Cunha will certainly give information on said politicians to investigators in order to reduce the fines and sentences he will soon face.
His plan to impeach Rousseff, his biggest political opponent, was eventually successful.
On August 31, the democratically elected Rousseff, who has still not been linked to any corruption scheme, was permanently removed from her position for “budgetary indiscretions” in which she moved funds between governmental departments. The decision to impeach Rousseff was made by a Senate (61 for and 20 against) where nearly 60 percent of the representatives are under investigation for a plethora of crimes.
The man that replaced Rousseff as President of the Republic, Michel Temer, is part of the catch-all but currently right-leaning Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), as is Cunha. Both men unsuccessfully tried to implicate Rousseff in the corruption scandals, but the PMDB and its members actually appeared more times than any other party in the investigation papers.
While Temer, who was recorded speaking and referring to himself as President and about his presidential plans two months before the Senate’s temporary removal of Rousseff vote even took place in May, is reaping the benefits of Cunha’s impeachment plans, Cunha himself is now finally left with no political power.
Using the ‘intelligent rat’ part of his ‘papabiru’ moniker, Cunha spoke just hours after the vote to remove him from office: “We plan to make a lot of money from this,” he said as he discussed his plans to write and release a book about his vital role in the impeachment process-turned-coup that took down Rousseff.