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Jan 20, 2017 | 18:02 GMT

Brazil: A Supreme Court Judge's Death Will Buy Time For The President

The death of Brazilian Supreme Court judge Teori Zavascki in a plane crash Jan. 19 could delay the release of testimony related to Brazil's Operation Carwash, the largest corruption investigation in the country's history. Zavascki had been reviewing testimony from dozens of executives at the Odebrecht engineering group, which is angling for a plea bargain in exchange for information that could incriminate hundreds of congressmen and top politicians, including Brazilian President Michel Temer and many of his close allies. The plea deal was supposed to be approved and made public in mid-February.

There is no indication that foul play was involved in the crash, but the investigation could take years. Zavascki and four other passengers were traveling in a small plane that crashed only 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the Paraty airport, where the plane was scheduled to land. Some reports indicate that heavy rains could have affected the pilot's visibility, making landing at the small airport even more difficult. However, a witness also said that there was white smoke coming from the plane before it went down.

It is unclear how the plea bargain will move forward now. Brazilian General Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot said Zavascki's death would delay the investigation by at least 3 months. If the process to choose a new Supreme Court judge to take charge of the corruption probe drags on too long, it will undoubtedly add to suspicions that the government could be behind the plane crash. This could embolden protests against Temer and his government. So far, it seems likely that Supreme Court President Carmen Lucia will appoint an existing Supreme Court judge to take over the case within the next few weeks. However, she could also wait until Temer appoints a new judge to the court, which would significantly delay things. The entire process could take the better part of a year, if Lucia waits until a new judge is appointed.

Another consideration is that if the Temer-appointed judge is assigned to the corruption case it could spark protests against him, since he is a target of the investigation. Temer is accused of receiving illegal donations from Odebrecht during his 2014 campaign. If found guilty, he could be impeached.

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