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Brazil judge orders corruption probe into top ministers

Brazil judge orders corruption probe into top ministersBrazilian Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered investigations into eight cabinet ministers and dozens of lawmakers allegedly linked to the country's biggest corruption scandal, Reuters reported.

The list of names under investigation released by Justice Edson Fachin read like a Who's Who of Brazilian politics, tarnishing past statesmen and potential presidential candidates alike.

The list, whose contents had been subject to furious speculation and a number of leaks, became public when Fachin lifted the seal on plea bargain testimony from 77 employees of construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted paying millions of dollars in bribes.

The investigation into eight ministers, or nearly a third of the president's cabinet, poses a serious threat to Temer's efforts to pass austerity reforms that he says are needed to regain investor confidence and lift the economy out of its worst recession on record.

Among that core is Temer's chief of staff Eliseu Padilha, an experienced politician considered key in negotiations with Congress to pass the administration's crucial pension reform. Padilha said he will defend himself in court.

Temer's ministers of foreign affairs, trade and agriculture also are under investigation, as well as the heads of both houses of Brazil's Congress and former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

The investigations throw into doubt the credibility of a number of potential presidential candidates for elections in 2018, with some of the most commonly mentioned names under investigation. PSDB party leader Aecio Neves and former Foreign Minister Jose Serra are cited on Fachin's list, with a possible investigation of Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin referred to a lower court.

Temer has vowed to suspend ministers who are charged and dismiss any if indicted.

Aides close to Temer have told Reuters that it could take months for ministers to be charged, meaning Padilha and other key cabinet members likely will stay in their posts long enough to secure the pension reform's passage.

Tuesday's decision to make public the names targeted in the investigation goes back to March when Brazil's top public prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to open 83 investigations into senior politicians based on the Odebrecht employees' testimony.
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