By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Under pressure from both allies and critics, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies President, Eduardo Cunha, announced his resignation from the top legislative position in the country’s Lower House on Thursday. The legislator, however, will continue to hold his position as a Congressional representative.
In his resignation letter, Cunha, who is an ally and of the same political party (PMDB) as interim President Michel Temer, said he came under attack after impeachment charges were filed against now suspended President Dilma Rousseff.
“I’m paying a high price for having initiated the impeachment (against President Dilma Rousseff). I have no doubt that the main cause for my suspension is the impeachment process of the President,” he said in his letter.
Cunha, one of Rousseff’s most powerful foes, was responsible for accepting one of the many impeachment requests which ultimately led to her suspension and quite possibly her permanent expulsion from office.
Cunha has been accused of possessing Swiss bank accounts that were never reported to Brazil’s federal revenue service or Congress and which, according to prosecutors, may be linked to the largest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history, the Lava Jato (Carwash).
At times on the verge of tears, Cunha, told reporters that he has always spoken the truth. “I will prove my innocence of these charges. I will continue to defend my position that I told the truth. I reaffirm that I did not receive any undue advantage from anyone,” he said.
The charges against Cunha were filed before Rousseff’s impeachment process started last year, and yet, the Speaker was resourcefully able to delay and postpone Congressional hearings of the irregularities for months.
Despite his resignation, Eduardo Cunha is still prohibited from attending Chamber hearings, since the Lower House continues to decide his legislative fate. In May, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that the speaker would be suspended because there was evidence that he was undermining and interfering with the proceedings.
For adversaries, the resignation was just a political ploy by Cunha to escape an impeachment process and save his elected position as Chamber Representative. “It’s a maneuver in order to save his mandate [Cunha],” representative Alessandro Molon told Agencia Brasil. “He will try to elect an ally to the [Chamber] presidency so his process can somehow benefit when it goes to the plenary [vote].”
Cunha’s allies reject the accusations, stating that the resignation was a ‘grand gesture’ to reduce the current instability in the Lower House. According to them the hearings to determine whether or not Cunha lied in a Congressional hearing about the foreign bank accounts will not be affected by his resignation as speaker.
In addition to troubles in Congress, Cunha also faces criminal proceedings filed by Brazil’s Supreme Court in March, for allegedly receiving US$5 million in bribes for contracts from Petrobras in the Lava Jato scandal. Cunha’s name first appeared in the Lava Jato investigations last year when an executive of the oil and gas sector entered a plea agreement with prosecutors in exchange for leniency.