Brazil Cabinet members investigated in corruption probe

Brazil's government tried to brush off a growing corruption crisis Wednesday after the Supreme Court ordered 108 graft investigations, targeting at least eight ministers and a third of the Senate.

After more than three years of mounting corruption probes into political kickbacks for contracts at state-run companies, police and prosecutors have jailed dozens of business leaders and convinced many to provide evidence against elected allies.

Michel Temer, Rousseff's deputy, takes over as president, but is immediately caught up in the Car Wash scandal.

Money allegedly received by politicians involved in the Petrobras corruption scheme in exchange for handing out building contracts to companies which overcharged them. Among the lawmakers were the speakers of the upper and lower houses.

A spokeswoman of Brazil's top court did not confirm the opening of the investigations to The Associated Press.

Some of the ministers reportedly targeted include Temer's chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, who is considered a key negotiator in the administration's efforts to approve its landmark pension reform in Congress.

Temer avoided commenting directly on the unprecedented wave of investigations triggered by plea bargain testimony from executives at engineering group Odebrecht, but he made clear the government was committed to passing its ambitious reform agenda.

Some admire him for his tenacity and willingness to go after the most influential politicians in the land, while others have questioned his methods such as leaking a phone call between former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the then-president, Dilma Rousseff.

Odebrecht paid so many big bribes to so many politicians, executives say, that they set up a company department to manage the money.

He took over a year ago from Rousseff after she was impeached for illegal handling of government finances.

Several ministers have already had to resign due to involvement in the Car Wash scandal since Temer took power previous year.

The Supreme Court is so far only authorising investigations and Mr Temer has already said he will not sack any minister who had not been formally charged with a crime.

The complaints against the politicians expanded the so-called Car Wash probe, which has uncovered massive embezzlement and bribery based on Petrobras.

The probe is a big blow to Temer's ruling PMDB party, with its senior senator Romero Juca, among those on the list.

Former presidential candidate and likely contender for the 2018 elections, Senator Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) also will be investigated, the daily reported. While Ms Rousseff was on the Petrobras board of directors from 2003 to 2010, she has never been formally accused of corruption or self-enrichment.

  • Joanne Flowers