February 2, 2017 / 7:24 PM / 6 months ago

Newest member of Brazil's top court to head corruption probes

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Supreme Court picked its newest member on Thursday to take over the investigations of politicians implicated in Brazil's biggest-ever graft scandal, expected to shake the country's establishment and government because of important new testimony.

Court officials said Justice Edson Fachin was chosen by random electronic selection from among a group of five of the court's 10 members and will take over the corruption cases from Justice Teori Zavascki, who died in a plane crash two weeks ago.

Fachin's first task will be to act on explosive plea bargain testimony to prosecutors by 77 executives of engineering conglomerate Odebrecht [ODBES.UL]. It reportedly names dozens of politicians who took kickbacks, including members of President Michel Temer's government and leaders of his PMDB party.

Fachin, 58, a law professor from Paraná state, was appointed to the court by Temer's impeached leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff but has established a record of independent rulings despite ties to her Workers Party.

Temer, who waited for the court to decide who would take on the graft cases to avoid accusations of political interference, must now choose a replacement for the late Zavascki.

He could do that in the next few days "or even hours," his chief of staff Eliseu Padilha told reporters.

Fachin received praise from Sergio Moro, the lower court judge at the centre of the graft investigation. Moro has ordered the arrest of dozens of executives from engineering, construction and oil companies and various politicians and intermediaries since the scandal broke three years ago.

"Justice Fachin is a jurist of the first order, who has shown himself to be an efficient and independent judge," Moro said in a statement.

Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alan Crosby

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