Brazil corruption probe gets new top judge

Brazil's Federal Supreme Court Minister Edson Fachin during the first session of the year in Brasília, on Feb 1, 2017.
Brazil's Federal Supreme Court Minister Edson Fachin during the first session of the year in Brasília, on Feb 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazil's Supreme Court named a new justice on Thursday (Feb 2) to oversee cases against politicians caught in a giant corruption probe after the previous judicial pointman was killed in an air crash.

Justice Edson Fachin, picked to replace the late Teori Zavascki, is seen as a safe pair of hands for the sprawling probe into bribery and embezzlement from state oil company Petrobras codenamed Operation Car Wash.

The scandal has already claimed a string of high-profile figures and the Supreme Court - which hears cases involving sitting politicians - is about to look at a flood of new allegations.

Fachin has spoken little in public about the Petrobras saga, in which politicians took bribes from business executives to hand out inflated contracts for work with the oil company. Much of the bribe money was funnelled into political party campaign funds.

However, Silvia Batini, a prosecutor and law professor, told AFP that Fachin would likely keep Car Wash on a steady path.

"He's the court member closest in profile to Zavascki, technically speaking. In terms of the rhythm of dealing with the case, we can expect a certain continuity," Batini said.

The Supreme Court's workload has grown with the decision to accept mass plea bargains conducted by prosecutors with scores of executives from the Odebrecht construction firm, one of the main players in the embezzlement scheme.

Car Wash prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol told AFP last month that the number of suspects would double, given the allegations made in the plea bargains.

President Michel Temer is among those alleged to have taken illegal money from Odebrecht, according to Brazilian media.

Zavascki's sudden death shocked the Brazilian political world, but despite claims by the judge's son that the crash was "too much of a coincidence," no evidence has been given yet of foul play.

Another judge involved in the Petrobras probe, Sergio Moro, hailed Zavascki as a "true hero."