Two weeks after the removal of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil's president, the lower house of Congress has expelled the politician who engineered her impeachment for lying about secret bank accounts in Switzerland.
Eduardo Cunha, who has been charged with corruption by the Supreme Court, was on Monday banned from politics for eight years and faces arrest now that he has lost his congressional prerogatives. The chamber voted overwhelmingly 450-10 to strip the once powerful former speaker of his seat.
Rubens Bueno, of the Popular Socialist Party, said: "This shows that Brazil will no longer tolerate a politician who turned Congress into a business counter for bribes and favours."
He said Cunha took kickbacks from companies and instructed them to donate to the campaigns of his allies. Cunha's downfall has many politicians worried because he has threatened to bring down others by revealing cases of corruption that could endanger members of the government of Michel Temer, Brazil's new president, and derail his fiscal overhaul agenda.
Cunha has warned that he could tell all in a plea bargain that could compromise many in a discredited political establishment, where 50 politicians are already under investigation for taking kickbacks in the Petrobras scandal. In all, about 60 percent of the 513 members of Brazil's lower house are under investigation for various allegations, according to watchdog group Transparency Brazil.
Cunha has been charged by the Supreme Court for allegedly taking a $5m bribe on a drill ship contract for state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA and for having undeclared Swiss bank accounts.
"I did not lie. Where is the proof? Where are the account numbers?" Cunha asked his peers, appearing in the house to repeat his defence argument that his assets were held in trust funds over which he had no control.
An ethics committee report read out to the chamber said the existence of his accounts and assets abroad was fully proved. Dozens of legislators who Cunha helped elect had sought to delay the committee hearings and managed to drag out the case for more than 10 months. Shortly after hearings began in December, Cunha launched the impeachment process against Rousseff, who was removed from office by the Senate on August 31 for breaking budgetary rules and decreeing public spending without Congressional approval.
Rousseff argued that her impeachment was revenge by Cunha for her Workers' Party's refusal to save him from the ethics probe that ultimately brought him down.
Cunha is the only sitting Brazilian politician to face trial so far in a massive bribery investigation focused on Petrobras and other state-run enterprises where engineering companies siphoned off funds from overpriced contracts to pay bribes to executives and kickbacks to politicians in Rousseff's governing coalition.
The office of Brazil's top prosecutor, which earlier this year asked for Cunha's arrest for using his speakership to obstruct investigations, says Cunha faces nine other corruption accusations.
Bueno said the action against Cunha showed Congress was finally responding to the demands of Brazilians for cleaner politics.