BRASILIA – The former speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress was convicted on Thursday of corruption and sentenced to 15 years and four months in prison.
Eduardo Cunha, who was the driving force behind the legislative effort that led to former President Dilma Rousseff’s ouster from office last year for violating budget laws, has been jailed since October, three months after he was forced out of office.
Judge Sergio Moro accepted the arguments of prosecutors and found Cunha guilty of receiving bribes from a crude-production contract that state oil company Petrobras signed in the African nation of Benin, as well as of money laundering and tax evasion.
“There can be no offense more serious than that of someone who betrays his legislative mandate and the sacred trust deposited in him by the people for his own benefit,” Moro said.
Cunha received $1.5 million in bribes for facilitating the signing of the contract, but the financial hit to Petrobras was considerably higher, according to the sentence, which is subject to appeal.
The conservative evangelical is the highest-profile political figure to be convicted in the so-called Lava Jato (Car Wash) probe, which has led to the arrest and conviction of dozens of politicians, Petrobras officials and executives at leading Brazilian construction and engineering companies.
The investigation has centered on allegations that Odebrecht and other large engineering companies paid bribes to corrupt Petrobras officials in exchange for inflated contracts and funneled money to politicians who provided cover for the graft.
Prosecutors also have requested that the Supreme Court investigate roughly 100 politicians who enjoy immunity from prosecution in ordinary courts, including some of current President Michel Temer’s Cabinet ministers, according to documents obtained by the local press.
In Brazil, high-ranking politicians such as federal lawmakers and Cabinet ministers can only be tried by the Supreme Court, which has come under criticism for its slow pace in taking up and resolving cases.