RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian police raided the homes of Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha and at least one minister on Tuesday, widening the political scope of an investigation into a suspected web of corruption linking ruling coalition politicians and influential business figures.
Cunha is at loggerheads with President Dilma Rousseff after opening impeachment proceedings against her on Dec. 2 over opposition allegations that she violated budget laws to increase spending during her re-election campaign last year.
A federal police statement said the swoop on Cunha’s homes in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro were among 53 search-and-seizure raids carried out in seven states.
Targets included the residences of Tourism Minister Henrique Eduardo Alves, ex-mining and energy minister Edison Lobão and lower house lawmaker Anibal Gomes.
News channel GloboNews reported that the home of Science Minister Celso Pansera had also been searched, but it was not immediately possible to confirm that.
GloboNews broadcast images of Cunha’s home in Brasilia, the nation’s capital, surrounded by several police vans. The veteran lawmaker, a former Rousseff ally turned adversary, remained inside the house, an aide told Reuters.
The lawyers for Gomes, Pansera and Lobão could not be contacted immediately for comment. Calls to the federal police in Brasilia and Cunha’s lawyer were not immediately answered.
Police said Supreme Federal Court Justice Teori Zawascki gave the go-ahead for the searches as part of “Operation Car Wash,” an inquiry into alleged payment of bribes for contracts at state-controlled firms, especially oil concern Petrobas - Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal ever.
Cunha, whose Democratic Movement Party is the coalition’s largest, was charged in August with graft and money-laundering, becoming the first sitting politician to face prosecution within the net of “Car Wash”.
He quit Rousseff’s coalition in July and earlier this month kicked off impeachment proceedings against her. Cunha has also put the brakes on efforts to ease Brazil’s swelling fiscal shortfall by spurring the passage of bills ramping up spending.
Many Brazilians are less upset about Rousseff’s alleged budget violations than about the worst economic recession in at least 25 years and the graft scandal at Petrobras that has ensnared many of Rousseff’s allies.
Rousseff is not under investigation, but many question how she could not have known about the corruption as she was chairwoman of the company from 2003 to 2010.
Additional reporting by Alexandre Caverni in São Paulo and Silvio Cascione and Leonardo Goy in Brasilia; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt