UPDATE 2-Brazil's lower house speaker Cunha charged in corruption probe
(Adds political context, analyst comment, details on Collor)
By Maria Carolina Marcello and Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA Aug 20 (Reuters) - The speaker of Brazil's lower house of Congress was charged by prosecutors with corruption and money laundering on Thursday, becoming the first sitting politician to be charged in a burgeoning kickback and bribery scandal.
Eduardo Cunha, a member of Brazil's largest political party, was accused of taking a $5 million bribe related to contracts for two drillships built for state-run oil company Petrobras , the focus of the country's biggest-ever corruption scandal.
The prosecutor's office said it also laid unspecified charges against former president Fernando Collor de Mello, now a senator. His name had been on the Supreme Court's list of dozens of people under investigation in the Petrobras scandal.
Cunha quit President Dilma Rousseff's coalition last month to join opposition lawmakers seeking her impeachment and has obstructed Rousseff's efforts to cut Brazil's gaping fiscal deficit by passing more spending bills.
The corruption charges will isolate Cunha and weaken his offensive against the president, who is battling the country's worst recession in three decades.
Cunha vehemently refuted all of the charges and said in a statement that he would continue his work as house speaker.
The country's top prosecutor filed the charges against Cunha at the Supreme Court, where he will face trial if he is indicted. Elected officials and cabinet ministers can only be tried by the highest court in Brazil. Continuación...