Former Brazilian legislator arrested in corruption probe

Eduardo Cunha, former speaker of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, addresses lawmakers in May.

Story highlights

  • Federal probe centers on illegal payments from the state petroleum company Petrobras, officials said
  • Eduardo Cunha had led the impeachment of Brazil's former president, Dilma Rousseff

Rio de Janeiro (CNN)An ousted Brazilian legislator who led the impeachment of the country's president was arrested Wednesday in a long-running federal corruption probe, authorities said.

Eduardo Cunha, former speaker of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, was apprehended in Brasilia. Federal police escorted Cunha to a police aircraft which flew him to the city of Curitiba, the base of the corruption investigation, called "Operation Car Wash," federal prosecutors said in a news release.
    Cunha's arrest was ordered because he was deemed a flight risk given his dual Brazilian and Italian citizenship and extensive "hidden resources" abroad, federal prosecutors said. Authorities also froze Cunha's access to his personal assets, which equate to about $70 million, officials said.
    Cunha also represented a threat to public order and to the "Car Wash" probe, officials added.
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    The federal probe centers on illegal payments from the state petroleum company Petrobras, officials said.
    Cunha's arrest Wednesday comes about a month after his ouster from power. He was voted out of Congress by a landslide chamber vote of 450 to 10, with nine abstentions.
    Lawmakers decided overwhelmingly that Cunha had lied during the investigation into corruption at Petrobras and had hid millions of dollars in offshore accounts. In the ouster Cunha also lost all of his political privileges for eight years.
    The Chamber of Deputies and Brazil's Senate make up its Congress.
    In May, the Supreme Court suspended Cunha at the request of the attorney general, who had accused him of obstructing justice and stashing millions of dollars in bribes in Swiss bank accounts.
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    Cunha officially resigned as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in July, but still maintained the partial immunity from prosecution offered to members of Congress and high-ranking politicians.
    Cunha, who has widely been compared the fictional character Frank Underwood from the TV series "House of Cards," had said, "I will continue to defend my innocence and that I told the truth."
    During Cunha's successful bid to impeach Brazil's former President Dilma Rousseff in December 2015, he accused the country's first female leader of hiding a budgetary deficit to win re-election in 2014.
    Rousseff's opponents also blamed her for the country's worst recession in decades. In August, Brazil's Senate voted 61-20 to remove her from office.