Brazil ex-speaker Eduardo Cunha jailed for 15 years

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2012 file photo of Eduardo CunhaImage source, AP
Image caption,
Eduardo Cunha was considered one of the most powerful politicians in Brazil

A judge has sentenced the former speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, Eduardo Cunha, to 15 years and four months in prison.

Cunha was found guilty of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

He led the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff and was one of Brazil's most powerful politicians before his arrest in October.

Judge Sergio Moro said he should be held in custody even while appeals are under way.

'No bigger crime'

Judge Moro argued that, even though Cunha no longer held political office, there was a risk he could continue engaging in corruption, intimidation and extortion.

"There is no bigger crime than that of trying to use one's parliamentary mandate and the sacred trust the people place in it to obtain personal gain," Judge Moro said.

Cunha, from the centre-right PMDB party, was expelled from the Brazilian Congress in September 2016.

Analysis by Daniel Gallas, BBC South America Business Correspondent

Just last year, Eduardo Cunha was seen as perhaps the most powerful politician in Brazil.

Many blame the downfall of former President Dilma Rousseff on a personal vendetta between the two. But now both Cunha and Rousseff seem to be part of Brazil's political past.

Cunha's work helped establish his PMDB party in power. But he lost all his influence when his own colleagues turned on him due to the various corruption investigations into his affairs.

His conviction may serve as a warning for the current speakers of both Houses - Rodrigo Maia, in the Lower, and Eunicio Oliveira, in the Senate.

Both men have also been mentioned in the Petrobras probe, which is still looking into the alleged participation of hundreds of politicians in corruption.

A house ethics committee found he had lied about having secret bank accounts in Switzerland, something the Swiss authorities confirmed he had.

He was arrested a month later in connection with a major investigation into corruption at state oil giant Petrobras, dubbed Operation Car Wash.

Judge Moro said Cunha had received bribes worth $1.5m (£1.2m) for his role in an oil exploration contract Petrobras struck in the African nation of Benin.

He has been held at a federal police prison in the city of Curitiba since his arrest in October.