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Brazilian police have arrested Eduardo Cunha, the powerful former speaker of the lower house and one of the country’s most criticised figures, over corruption at state oil company Petrobras, shaking Brazil’s political establishment.
Mr Cunha, who masterminded the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, was detained at his apartment in Brasília on Wednesday and was expected to be held in a prison in the southern city of Curitiba.
His arrest comes a month after lawmakers voted to expel him from Congress and ban him from public office for eight years on charges he lied over holding Swiss bank accounts, in which he allegedly stashed millions of dollars of kickbacks from the graft scheme. Mr Cunha has denied wrongdoing.
Brazilians took to social media on Wednesday in elation following Mr Cunha’s arrest — a move that is set to increase popular support for Sérgio Moro, the anti-corruption judge leading the Petrobras case who issued the arrest warrant.
“We should declare a national holiday!” wrote one Brazilian on Twitter, as others called for Mr Moro to be the country’s next president.
While the move was popular, Mr Cunha’s arrest threatens to destabilise President Michel Temer’s already fragile government and make it harder to pass badly-needed fiscal reforms to lift Brazil out of its worst recession on record, analysts said.
Mr Cunha, a ruthless backroom dealer who has been dubbed the “Frank Underwood” of Brazilian politics — a reference to the television series House of Cards — is expected to retaliate against members of Mr Temer’s government.
After being betrayed by former allies in the lower house vote in September, he has already started work on a book about how he masterminded efforts to impeach Ms Rousseff in August and bring down the leftist Workers’ Party after almost 14 years in power.
Juliano Griebeler, analyst at the Barral M Jorge Associates consultancy in Brasília, said if Mr Cunha decides to sign a tell-all plea bargain it would probably not occur until next year, raising the pressure on Mr Temer to act quickly to pass critical reforms to the pension system.
“The government needs to make the most of the favourable scenario right now before this affects votes in Congress,” said Mr Griebeler.
Federal public prosecutors, who requested Mr Cunha’s arrest, said his preventive detention was necessary as they believed he could interfere with the investigation and perhaps even flee the country, given that he has an Italian passport and funds abroad.