Brazil's Eduardo Cunha faces loss of seat in Congress

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Eduardo Cunha testifies before parliamentary commission of inquiry in Brasilia. 19 May 2016Image source, AP
Image caption,
Eduardo Cunha says he will appeal against the committee's decision

Brazil's suspended lower house Speaker Eduardo Cunha has been dealt a major blow after a committee voted in favour of stripping him of his seat.

Mr Cunha is widely regarded as the architect of the impeachment process of President Dilma Rousseff.

He has been accused of lying about undeclared Swiss bank accounts but strongly denies any wrongdoing.

If the full lower house approve the move, he faces losing his partial immunity from prosecution.

He could then be arrested and prosecuted on corruption charges.

The vote in the congressional ethics committee was tight, with members approving the motion 11-9 in favour.

"We are facing the biggest scandal this body has ever ruled on," said ethics council rapporteur Marcos Rogerio, who wrote the report recommending that Mr Cunha be stripped of his seat.

Mr Cunha has insisted he is innocent and vowed to appeal against the decision to another congressional committee.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Anti-corruption activists have staged protests outside Congress

Swiss authorities say Mr Cunha had secret accounts worth about $5m (£3.2m) which Brazilian prosecutors allege are linked to a corruption scheme at the state oil company, Petrobras.

Brazilian press: 'Politically dead, but still radioactive'

Image source, Folha de S.Paulo
Image caption,
Folha de Sao Paulo highlighted the continuing influence of Mr Cunha in its headline

News of the ethics committee vote, which brings Mr Cunha one step closer to permanent suspension, has quickly been replaced as top headline by other stories.

This perhaps reflects doubt over whether Mr Cunha's suspension will go ahead, taking into account his considerable political influence.

Centre-right daily Correio Braziliense features a headline citing Mr Cunha's reaction to the vote: "I am completely confident that the ruling will not be carried forward."

Left-leaning news portal Carta Capital also views the news with some scepticism, and notes that it took eight months of "manoeuvres, postponements and waivers" for the ethics committee to cast their vote.

Igor Gielow, a journalist at leading daily Folha de Sao Paulo, also highlights Mr Cunha's continued influence in an article entitled "Politically dead, Cunha is still radioactive". However Mr Gielow says that a "miracle" is needed to go against public opinion and restore Mr Cunha to his post.

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Mr Cunha, a committed evangelical Christian who often quotes the Bible in his social media messages, has said that the accounts in Switzerland were trust funds that he did not control.

He was suspended last month, accused of trying to obstruct the corruption investigation against him and intimidating lawmakers.

Ms Rousseff and her supporters say it was her government's decision not to give in to Mr Cunha's demands, specifically over the ethics committee investigation, that triggered his subsequent move to begin impeachment proceedings.

Petrobras is at the centre of a massive kickbacks scandal which has led to the arrest of dozens of Brazilian lawmakers and top businessmen.