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Eduardo Cunha, Who Led Impeachment Drive Against Rival in Brazil, Gets a 15-Year Jail Term

CONCEIÇÃO DO CAPIM, Brazil — Eduardo Cunha, the conservative Brazilian political leader who led the push in 2016 to oust Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s former president, was sentenced on Thursday to more than 15 years in prison.

A federal judge in Brazil found him guilty of corruption, money laundering and illegally sending money abroad, all in connection with a sprawling graft investigation involving the state-run oil company Petrobras.

In handing down one of stiffest penalties meted out to a top political figure in Brazil in recent years, the judge said Mr. Cunha violated his “enormous” responsibilities as a lawmaker.

“There can be no more serious offense than the betrayal for personal gain of a parliamentary mandate and the sacred trust of the people,” said the judge, Sergio Moro, a leading figure in the investigation who has become something of a hero to graft-weary Brazilians.

Mr. Cunha is the highest-profile politician to be sentenced as a result of the Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption at Petrobras, which has shaken Brazil’s political and business establishments to their core. He was convicted of charges that included receiving bribes during Petrobras’ acquisition of a Benin oil field for $ 35.5 million in 2011, and of money laundering crimes between 2011 and 2014.

The sentencing marked a new low point in the fall of Mr. Cunha, who only months ago wielded immense influence as the speaker of the lower house of Congress, where he orchestrated and oversaw the impeachment of Ms. Rousseff last year on accusations of manipulating the budget to disguise mounting economic problems.

Mr. Cunha, who gained notoriety for his conservative views as an evangelical Christian radio commentator, resigned his speaker role in July amid charges that he took as much as $ 40 million in bribes for himself and allies. He was expelled from Congress in September and arrested the following month.

“There has never been such a rapid fall,” said Maurício Santoro, a political scientist and professor of international relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “He has gone from being one of the most powerful politicians in Brazil to this.”

Mr. Cunha was also a leading figure in the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party of President Michel Temer, whose beleaguered government has grappled with one corruption scandal after another, as Brazil’s three-year recession has worsened and the president has sunk in opinion polls.

Mr. Cunha’s lawyers said they would appeal the decision, though he will remain imprisoned pending the appeal.

“This judge is in no condition to judge any action against me because of his partiality and political motivation,” Mr. Cunha wrote on Thursday from inside the jail in Curitiba, Brazil, where he is being held, according to the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper. He accused Judge Moro of using him as a “trophy.”

The lengthy prison term may serve as an incentive to other politicians facing investigation in the Petrobras scandal to seek plea deals. Such deals by those accused have played a pivotal role as the investigation advanced, and a collaboration by Mr. Cunha could prove a threat to Mr. Temer, who has already been accused in leaked testimony of soliciting illicit campaign funds by one collaborator.

“Fifteen years is very tough sentence,” said Mr. Santoro. “It is a very powerful mechanism for politicians to do deals.”

Source: NYT > World

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