Brazil's Supreme Court announced Tuesday that corruption investigations had been ordered for eight ministers and dozens more top politicians in a sweeping decision that affects almost one third of embattled President Michel Temer's Cabinet and many of his top allies.
In total, 108 people will be investigated following Justice Edson Fachin's ruling, which was itself the product of more than 74 probes involving plea bargain deals and testimony from former and current executives with Odebrecht, a construction giant at the center of a bribes-for-contracts scandal.
The investigations will bring "a tsunami" to Brazilian politics, said Claudio Couto, a political science professor at Fundacao Getulio Vargas, a Sao Paulo-based university and think tank.
"Every party and every state has someone there. Top congressional leaders of both houses are involved. This is proof that corruption in Brazil is systemic and there is a huge potential for this to disorganize the whole administration as of tomorrow," Couto told The Associated Press.
The politicians have all denied any wrongdoing. Temer has temporary immunity from prosecution because Brazilian presidents can only be charged for crimes they committed during their term in office.
After authorizing the investigations, Brazil's attorney-general will proceed with them and later decide whether the accused should stand trial. Temer said recently that any ministers standing trial should step down from their Cabinet posts.
The judge's decision comes as Brazil's president fights to survive an electoral court trial that could remove him from office for illegal campaign financing. He is also trying to pass tough austerity measures and reforms through Congress. All this while polls show his approval rating plunging to as low as 10 percent.
Odebrecht and state oil giant Petrobras are at the center of a wide-ranging investigation involving kickbacks and inflated contracts at state companies. The probe has ensnared dozens of high-level politicians and executives, and has grown into the biggest graft investigation in the country's history. Prosecutors have relied heavily on plea bargains with defendants to make cases against others.
The scandal has even become a regional issue, with justice systems in other countries accusing local officials of taking bribes from the construction giant. Odebrecht has acknowledged paying almost $800 million in bribes across Latin America.