Rio de Janeiro – Brazilian Supreme Court judge Teori Zavascki, who was overseeing the court’s investigation into a wide-ranging corruption scandal, was killed Thursday when the plane in which he was travelling crashed, President Michel Temer said.
The 68-year-old judge was aboard a small plane that crashed into the sea off the town of Paraty, on the southern coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro.
“Dear friends, we just received confirmation that my father died! Thank you all for the support,” Francisco Prehn Zavascki wrote on Facebook. He had earlier posted that his father had been on the plane.
Zavascki was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012 by then-president Dilma Rousseff.
He was in charge of the court’s investigations into the “Lava Jato” – “Operation Car Wash” political corruption case.
File picture – Brazilian judge Teori Zavascki, in Brazil.
Sergio Moro, the federal judge leading the prosecution, said in a press release he was “perplexed” by Zavascki’s death in the crash.
“Without him, there never would have been an Operation Car Wash,” he added.
Dozens of politicians are being investigated over links and kickbacks centred on state oil company Petrobras in what is considered the largest such case in Brazilian history.
The court is investigating allegations of a system of bribes paid to politicians by companies interested in obtaining contracts with Petrobras.
Among the accused are several Temer allies in his conservative Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).
Even former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) is expected to face several trials on corruption and money-laundering allegations linked to Lava Jato.
Temer declared three days of national mourning for Zavascki.
“He was a good man and a source of pride for all Brazilians,” Temer said, adding that the national period of mourning “is a modest homage to one who served the legal class, the courts and the people of Brazil.”
Four people were aboard the plane flying from Sao Paulo to Paraty, located about 260 kilometres west of the city of Rio, according to Brazilian media. At least three of the passengers were killed, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.
It was not immediately clear what caused the plane to crash just 2 kilometres from the runway in Paraty.
Brazilian television showed images of rescuers working to recover the remains of the aircraft.