Brazilian lawmakers vote to strip ex-speaker of his seat

The Chamber of Deputies voted 450 to 10 to remove Eduardo Cunha after hours of debate.

REUTERS/Adriano Machado
Former speaker of Brazil's Lower House of Congress, Eduardo Cunha (bottom L), speaks at a session of the House as they debate his impeachment, in Brasilia, Brazil, September 12, 2016.

Brazil's lower house of Congress voted overwhelmingly late Monday to strip the legislative seat of its former speaker amid accusations of corruption and obstruction of justice.

The Chamber of Deputies voted 450 to 10 to remove Eduardo Cunha after hours of debate, adding him to a growing list of politicians and business executives who have been felled by Brazil's sprawling corruption scandals. Nine legislators abstained.

Cunha has been accused by Brazilian prosecutors of receiving millions of dollars in bribes linked to the mammoth corruption scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras. But the issue before the Chamber of Deputies was only whether he lied about having secret banking accounts in Switzerland.

Cunha, who said the accounts belonged to a trust, was pressured into resigning as speaker after the accounts came to light, but he had refused to give up his post as a lawmaker. He was in his fourth term.

As speaker, Cunha was the main driver behind the impeachment process that led to the Senate trying left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff and removing her from office last month.

Cunha has been a key ally of new President Michel Temer, who had been Rousseff's vice president, but after the vote he accused Temer's administration of joining in the effort to punish him for the removal of Rousseff.

"This was a political process because I kicked off the impeachment proceedings. They wanted a trophy," he said at a news conference.

"The current administration adopted the agenda of removing me from office," he said, adding that he planned to publish a book telling about the behind-the-scenes dealings that led to the impeachment of Rousseff.

With the loss of his congressional seat, Cunha also loses his partial immunity from prosecution. In Brazil, only the country's top court can decide to charge and try federal lawmakers.

Prosecutors have alleged that Cunha is one of those tied to the Petrobras scandal, in which more than $2 billion in bribes was purportedly paid to obtain inflated contracts from the energy company. The case has ensnared some of Brazil's most powerful lawmakers and business executives.

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