By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The president of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, and former President, now Senator, Fernando Collor de Mello were accused of corruption and money laundering on Thursday, August 20th by the country’s general attorney, Rodrigo Janot, as part of the on-going Operation Lava Jato (Carwash Operation) investigations. The two are the first high-ranking politicians to be involved in what is already the country’s largest public corruption scheme in history.
According to documents presented by Janot to the Supreme Court, Cunha is said to have asked for US$5 million from companies to help a company obtain contracts to construct drilling vessels for Petrobras’ oil and gas operations. In July, a consultant for one of the companies accused Cunha of asking for bribes to push through the contracts.
Brazil’s Attorney General also accused ex-President Collor of receiving approximately US$7.5 million in bribes related to Petrobras’ subsidiary, BR Distribuidora. Both men have continuously denied any involvement with the Lava Jato scheme.
“I am absolutely calm and strongly refute any conclusions by part of the Attorney General. As I said earlier, I was chosen to be investigated and now it seems, I am also being chosen to be charged,” he said adding that the charges were filed to try to stop his political activities.
Cunha, from Brazil’s largest political party, the PMDB, and at first an ally of the Rousseff Administration, has become one of its most vigorous critics.
Senator Collor also repudiated the charges stating that Janot had opted for a media spectacle at the expense of individual rights and guarantees. According to the former leader, he requested to be heard twice and twice his deposition was postponed. Collor stated in a press release that if he had been heard the charges would not have been made.
“If the judicial system had been respected all of this could have cleared up,” he said on social media on Thursday. In July federal police confiscated luxury automobiles, including a Lamborghini, a Porsche and a Ferrari from Collor’s Brasília home as part of the Lava Jato investigation.
Now it is up to Brazil’s Supreme Court to judge if there is enough evidence to formally accuse both Cunha and Collor. Since both are Congressional representatives, their cases are decided by the highest court in the country.
“I have a clear conscience and I will continue doing my work as President of the Chamber of Deputies with the same independence that has always guided my actions and my commitment to have an independent Chamber,” said Cunha on Thursday, hinting that he would not ease up on criticism directed at the current Administration.
Meanwhile, opinions by Congressional representatives ranged from total or partial support for the two colleagues to calls for Cunha to step down as leader of the Lower House. Cunha, however, was categorical Thursday when he stated he would not step down as Speaker of the Lower House. The Rousseff Administration did not comment on the charges, with Communication Minister, Edinho Silva, stating that the ‘government of President Rousseff believes in the impartiality of the institutions which are looking into the charges’.