Brazil investigates crash that killed judge

Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki attends a session of the Supreme Court in Brasilia, Brazil. Zavascki’s son said that his father was on a plane that crashed off the coast of the city in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, AP PHOTO

SAO PAULO — Brazilian authorities on Friday were investigating a plane crash that killed the Supreme Court justice in charge of a major corruption case just weeks before he was scheduled to issue a ruling that could have revealed accusations against politicians in several Latin American countries.

The death of Justice Teori Zavascki, 68, in Thursday’s crash is likely to delay, though not derail, the “Car Wash” investigation, the largest corruption investigation in Brazil’s history. Investigators allege inflated contracts with state oil giant Petrobras and other staterun companies yielded billions of dollars for bribes and election campaigns.

The small plane went down in heavy rains Thursday just off the coast of Paraty, a colonial town and popular vacation spot about 155 miles (250 kilometers) west of Rio de Janeiro.

Although the cause was unclear, many Brazilians voiced fears of foul play since Zavascki held such an important role in the investigation, in which dozens of politicians and businessmen already have been jailed. Transparency International called for a full investigation into the crash.

While the “Car Wash” probe has been led by a team of prosecutors and Judge Sergio Moro in the southern city of Curitiba, Zavascki handled cases involving politicians. Under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can decide to charge or jail federal politicians.

In addition to investigations led by aviation authorities, federal police and the public prosecutor have opened probes. The voice recorder was found Friday and is being sent to an Air Force laboratory, the Brazilian Air Force said in a statement.

The wreckage of the plane will be analyzed in Rio de Janeiro state, where the crash occurred. The prosecutor’s office has already asked aviation authorities for documents about the plane’s maintenance and the cockpit recordings.

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