Brazilian justice suspends house speaker, foe of president

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A justice on Brazil’s supreme court suspended the leader of the country’s lower house of Congress on Thursday, removing one of the nation’s most powerful politicians who is reviled by many for numerous corruption allegations.

Justice Teori Zavascki’s made the decision to strip Eduardo Cunha of his post ahead of a full session of the court, which could decide to confirm, overturn or simply not take up Zavascki’s decision. Unless the full court acts, Cunha’s suspension will remain in effect.

A spokeswoman in Cunha’s office said he had been informed of the decision and had no comment. Cunha has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in all the cases against him.

Cunha, who frequently tweets passages from the Bible, has been leading the effort to impeach President Dilma Rousseff over allegations she used budget tricks to hide deficits that have contributed to the worst recession in Latin America’s largest economy in decades.

A measure to impeach her was passed last month by the Chamber of Deputies. It’s now before the Senate, so Cunha’s suspension has no direct impact.

While the decision comes too late for supporters of Rousseff and her Worker’s Party, it’s sure to be celebrated in many circles.

“Cunha is the only person that brings Brazil together” in shared contempt, said Francisco Fonseca, a political analyst at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas, a think tank focused on education and politics.

Chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has called Cunha “a criminal” who used his position to obstruct a probe into corruption at the state oil company Petrobras. Zavascki’s decision was based on a request from Janot that was filed in December.

Besides obstruction of justice, Cunha is facing several corruption allegations, including accepting bribes and failing to declare foreign bank accounts with millions of dollars.

Zavascki said in his ruling that because Cunha was being investigated in several corruption cases, he wasn’t fit to be in line for the presidency should Rousseff be impeached. If Rousseff is impeached, Vice President Michel Temer is set to take over, and next in line would be Cunha.