A Supreme Court justice has called for probes into at least eight Cabinet ministers, along with scores of lawmakers. The investigations will focus on complicity in the massive "Car Wash" bribery scheme.
The Supreme Court's announcement on Tuesday authorized probes targeting a broad swathe of Brazil's current political elite as part of an ongoing investigation into a massive corruption scandal involving millions of dollars in political bribes.
Presiding Justice Edson Fachin's decision, referred to in the Brazilian media as "the bomb," will result in investigations against 42 federal deputies, 29 senators, 3 regional governors and at least eight ministers in President Michael Temer's government, nearly one third of his Cabinet.
A number of those to be probed also include politicians commonly assumed to be potential candidates for Brazil's presidential elections in 2018.
Former presidents Henrique Cardoso, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff are already under investigation.
Fachin's decision answers a March request submitted by Brazil's top public prosecutor to open probes against 83 of the country's political leaders, individuals who are normally protected by law.
Working at the "Car Wash"?
The probes relate to the three-year-old "Car Wash" ("Lava Jato") corruption case. The listed politicians are suspected of benefitting from millions of dollars in bribes paid out by the Odebrecht construction company to secure major government contracts with the state-run Petrobras oil company.
Under a plea bargain deal, 77 Odebrecht employees, including ex-CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, previously confessed to a systematic bribery of politicians so great that the company created a department to manage the illegal money flow.
The company's employees reported that money either lined politicians' pockets directly or was paid into campaign slush funds.
Teetering Temer government
While many Brazilians have heralded the Supreme Court's decision as a strong move combating systematic illegal activity in the corruption-plagued country, some worry that the large number of politicians facing probes will cripple the government's efficacy at a time when Temer is attempting to push through austerity reforms and put the brakes on a debilitating recession.
"The political crisis will deepen and we risk an institutional paralysis because the entire Brazilian political system is under question," opposition Senator Jorge Viana said in a statement. He is currently under investigation himself.
JP Spinetto, executive producer for Bloomberg TV, tweeted on the all-encompassing scale of the country's political corruption.
In particular, Eliseu Padilha, the president's chief of staff who is to be probed, is viewed as a key figure needed to negotiate vital pension reform with congress.
However, presidential aides told Reuters that even if Padilha eventually faces charges in the scandal, this would not occur for many months, allowing the chief of staff enough time to secure the reforms.
Many other politicians on the judge's list are members of Temer's center-right PMDB.
President Temer's office declined comment on the subject, but the president promised to suspend any charged minister. However, he will not take any action until formal charges have been made.
Temer took office in September of last year after Rousseff was impeached on accusations of wrongdoing.
cmb/jm (EFE, Reuters, dpa)