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article imageLeader of Rousseff impeachment drive resigns Brazil speaker's post

By Damian Wroclavsky (AFP)     Jul 7, 2016 in World

Eduardo Cunha, the Brazilian politician who spearheaded the drive to impeach suspended president Dilma Rousseff, on Thursday resigned from his post as congressional speaker as a corruption probe closed in on him.

Cunha, who is often compared to the dark, manipulative hero Frank Underwood of the hit Netflix series "House of Cards," used his position as speaker of the lower house to put Rousseff on a so-far unstoppable path to being forced from office.

A conservative lawmaker allied with Congress's Evangelical Christian wing, Cunha is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes and maintaining secret Swiss bank accounts.

But Cunha, who denies wrongdoing, said in an emotional resignation statement in the capital Brasilia that he was being made a scapegoat for his role in bringing down the leftist Rousseff.

"I am paying a high price for having launched the impeachment," he said.

Cunha also said that by resigning he'd bring stability to Congress, where he is a polarizing figure and where until now he has used his legendary wheeler-dealer skills to fend off attempts at pushing him out.

"The chamber cannot put up with this indefinitely," he said.

Cunha's downfall is not expected to change the fate of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rous...
Cunha's downfall is not expected to change the fate of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, pictured here in Brasilia on June 14, 2016
Evaristo Sa, AFP/File

Cunha was already suspended from his powerful post in May, but he retained considerable support from a network of political allies built during a career in which even critics have recognized his prowess as a backroom operator.

His downfall is not expected to change the fate of Rousseff, from the leftist Workers' Party, which has been in power for 13 years but is now in grave danger.

Not only does Rousseff face ejection from office but Workers' Party founder and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is embroiled in serious corruption allegations of his own.

- Impetus for impeachment -

Brazil's acting President Michel Temer  pictured in Brasilia on June 29  2016  would retain the...
Brazil's acting President Michel Temer, pictured in Brasilia on June 29, 2016, would retain the presidency until the next scheduled elections in 2018 if Rousseff is impeached
Evaristo Sa, AFP/File

Thanks largely to Cunha's leadership, the lower house voted heavily in favor last year for opening an impeachment trial against Rousseff, on charges that she illegally manipulated government accounts. She describes the process against her as a coup in disguise and has called Cunha the lead plotter, along with Michel Temer, her former vice president who is now temporarily in her job.

Both Cunha and Temer are from the centrist PMDB party, the biggest in Brazil and formerly in a shaky alliance with the Workers' Party.

In May, the Senate followed the lead of Cunha's lower house and voted by a large margin to launch the impeachment trial. Senators are now due in late August to take a final vote on whether to terminate Rousseff's presidency.

If she goes, Temer would retain the presidency until the next scheduled elections in 2018.

Cunha is accused of taking bribes as part of a massive corruption scheme centered on Petrobras, the huge state oil company. Dozens of politicians and top executives have been charged, or in some cases already found guilty and jailed.

Cunha is also being investigated by the congressional ethics committee over allegedly lying to Congress about possessing secret Swiss bank accounts.

Highlighting the seemingly endless circles of corruption scandals engulfing Brazil, the congressional deputy who has been filling in for Cunha during his suspension, Waldir Maranhao Cardoso, is himself being investigated for alleged Petrobras-related crimes, including money laundering.

A new, permanent speaker of the lower house will now be elected.

Cunha still has to face the serious corruption charges, but as long as he remains a member of parliament he will be tried in the Supreme Court, where cases can be dragged out for long periods, offering a degree of protection not available to non-politicians.

Gerson Camarotti, a commentator for Globo news organization, said Cunha had jumped from the speaker's post before he was pushed.

If he'd tried to hang on any longer, "Cunha would not have been able even to offer the gesture of his resignation to win goodwill from his allies," Camarotti said.

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