Brazil politi­cian in­spires dread from be­hind bars

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The jail­ing of Ed­uardo Cunha on cor­rup­tion charges put one of Brazil’s most Machi­avel­lian politi­cians out of play - so why is the coun­try’s elite so ner­vous about him? Cunha was jailed Wed­nes­day to await trial on charges of bribe tak­ing, money laun­der­ing and stash­ing his il­licit gains in Swiss ac­counts. It was a shock­ing come­down for the for­mer speaker of the lower house who launched the im­peach­ment of for­mer left­ist pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff, lead­ing to his fel­low cen­ter-right PMDB party member Michel Te­mer tak­ing over the pres­i­dency.

But the pos­si­bil­ity that the Brazil­ian wheeler dealer, of­ten com­pared to Frank Un­der­wood in Net­flix’s dark po­lit­i­cal se­ries “House of Cards”, could co­op­er­ate with pros­e­cu­tors is caus­ing alarm among other politi­cians, an­a­lysts say. Pros­e­cu­tors lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a huge em­bez­zle­ment and bribery scheme at state oil com­pany Petro­bras have re­peat­edly used plea bar­gains to ex­tract new in­for­ma­tion and ex­pand their probe. Cunha, the ul­ti­mate in­sider, would po­ten­tially be a mother lode.

“Who in Brasilia would be safe from a plea bar­gain with Cunha?” asked law pro­fes­sor Ivar Hart­mann at the Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion in Rio de Janeiro. “Cunha has a ma­jor destructive po­ten­tial,” Al­berto Almeida, di­rec­tor of the Anal­y­sis In­sti­tute, said.

Who’s Next?

The Petro­bras scan­dal has al­ready put a host of lead­ing politi­cians in the crosshairs. Ex-pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, the men­tor of Rouss­eff, is the sub­ject of three cases and there is spec­u­la­tion that he could be next to face ar­rest. How­ever Te­mer’s govern­ment is also reel­ing from the probe. Three of his min­is­ters fac­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion had to step down soon af­ter he took over the pres­i­dency in Au­gust. One of them, Romero Juca, re­signed as plan­ning min­is­ter af­ter the leak of a record­ing in which he ap­peared to dis­cuss want­ing to shut down the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, dubbed Op­er­a­tion Car Wash.

Al­though Cunha was a close ally of Te­mer and oth­ers in the new govern­ment, they are likely to be fear­ful of what he might say if pros­e­cu­tors put him un­der pres­sure. “I have no doubt that if Cunha has to choose be­tween sav­ing his party’s rep­u­ta­tion or his own skin that he’ll opt for his own skin,” Hart­mann said. Even with­out a plea bar­gain, Cunha is keep­ing Brasilia on its toes with his prom­ise to write a book - some­thing that be­ing in­car­cer­ated will give him plenty of time to do.

If Cunha spills the beans on his in­sider knowl­edge “the cri­sis could af­fect the in­ner core of the govern­ment,” said an­a­lyst Marco An­to­nio Teix­eira at the Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion. So far the Te­mer govern­ment has re­acted with no­table cau­tion. Brazil­ian me­dia re­ports said that min­is­ters had been in­structed to avoid comment. Te­mer, on a trip to Tokyo, would not be drawn on spec­u­la­tion that more cab­i­net mem­bers could be downed by the Car Wash probe. “For now these are just al­le­ga­tions,” he said. But Te­mer may end up hav­ing to sac­ri­fice min­is­ters, Hart­mann said. The pri­or­ity is “to shield Te­mer, pro­tect him, be­cause los­ing an­other min­is­ter is ac­cept­able as long as Te­mer doesn’t fall.” — AFP

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