Brazil lower house speaker under pressure over Swiss accounts

President of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha participates in a session of the chamber in Brasilia, Brazil, September 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA/ZURICH (Reuters) - A group of lawmakers called for the resignation of the speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, on Thursday after Switzerland provided Brazilian prosecutors with details of Swiss bank accounts in his name.

Cunha, who has been charged with corruption and money laundering in Brazil’s largest-ever bribery and political kickback scandal, refused to comment on the accounts that have been frozen by Swiss authorities.

Third in the line of presidential succession, Cunha is a key figure in Brazil’s political crisis because he can decide whether to open impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, something her opponents are seeking.

The office of Brazil’s top prosecutor said on Wednesday it received from its Swiss counterpart information on bank accounts held by Cunha and family members that were investigated on the suspicion of corruption and money laundering.

The Attorney General’s office in Switzerland said in an email to Reuters that Cunha’s assets have been seized after it opened criminal proceedings against him. The investigation has been handed over to Brazilian prosecutors, it said, as the politician cannot be extradited to Switzerland.

Fifteen lawmakers signed a petition that was sent to Cunha asking him to inform Congress if the bank accounts are his and whether he had declared them in his income tax returns.

“It is disgraceful that the Brazilian Congress has a speaker that is facing so many accusations of corruption,” Chico Alencar, a leftist congressman who signed the petition, told reporters.

Several defendants in a massive investigation of bribes and kickbacks paid from overpriced contracts with state-run oil company Petrobras have said in plea bargain statements that Cunha received a $5 million bribe in connection to contracts for two drillships built for Petrobras.

Cunha has denied the accusations. He would be forced to step down if convicted of corruption by the Supreme Court, the only court that can try elected officials in Brazil.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle in BRASILIA and John Miller in ZURICH; Editing by Bill Rigby and Michael Perry