UPDATE 1-Brazil speaker faces ethics investigation on Swiss accounts
(Adds details of probe, lawyers comment, political context)
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA Nov 16 (Reuters) - A Brazilian congressional ethics committee decided on Monday to investigate whether lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha lied in a corruption hearing about Swiss bank accounts that prosecutors say he controls.
The probe threatens the political career of Cunha, the sole member of Congress with authority to take up impeachment requests filed against President Dilma Rousseff.
Cunha has leveraged his power over potential impeachment proceedings to neutralize Rousseff's Workers' Party on the 21-member committee, whose investigation could drag on until April.
Congressman Fausto Pinato of the Evangelical Christian PRB party, who is in charge of the case, said there were grounds to investigate a breach of conduct by Cunha, including evidence provided by Switzerland of accounts held by the speaker and his wife at the Julius Baer bank.
Prosecutors accused Cunha of receiving a $5 million kickback in the graft scheme uncovered at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA. But Cunha in March told a congressional commission looking into the scandal that he had no bank accounts abroad.
Cunha, who is third in the line of presidential succession, maintains he never lied, although he has not explained the existence of the accounts or lavish credit card expenditures detailed by Swiss authorities to their Brazilian counterparts. His lawyers said they would present his defense to the ethics committee on Tuesday.
The ouster of Cunha, who has obstructed Rousseff's legislative agenda since corruption charges were leveled at him, could improve the president's chances of survival. Her popularity has sunk to single digits due to a severe recession and the corruption scandal engulfing Petrobras. Continuación...