World

SAO PAULO – A Brazilian Supreme Court judge, who was overseeing a graft investigation into scores of powerful politicians, has died in a plane crash.

Teori Zavascki, 68, was killed as a plane he was flying in crashed into the sea in heavy rain, according to the BBC.

Rescuers found two other bodies in the wreckage of the small, twin-prop plane that crashed in the sea near Paraty, some 250km (160 miles) south of Rio de Janeiro, firefighters said.

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Federal prosecutors and police said they would immediately open an investigation in addition to that of aviation authorities.

The Hawker Beechcraft C90GT carrying Zavascki left a Sao Paulo airport around 1 p.m. (1500 GMT).

The plane crashed into the sea about 80 minutes later, roughly 3 km (2 miles) from the airport near the colonial tourist town of Paraty, according to air force and civil aviation authorities.

President Michel Temer has declared three days of national mourning following Mr Zavascki’s death, calling him “a good man, and a (symbol of) pride for all Brazilians”.

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Operation Car Wash

Mr. Zavascki was overseeing a massive corruption investigation at the state oil company, Petrobras.

Dozens of politicians have been arrested as part of the inquiry, known as Operation Car Wash, over the past two years.

Prosecutors say politicians were paid vast amounts in exchange for granting lucrative contracts to private companies that had overcharged Petrobras.

Mr Zavascki had been investigating executives from Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest construction firm.

Odebrecht has admitted to paying $1bn in bribes to obtain in contracts in 12 different countries.

In Brazil’s tumultuous times, where political divisions are running deep in virtually every institution, it is hard to find truly independent voices.

But Judge Teori Zavascki was arguably one such voice. The Petrobras investigation gained much credibility when he was appointed to oversee the case in the Supreme Court.

A few days from now, the court will start analyzing the plea bargain deals struck with 77 executives from Odebrecht, a construction company that admitted corrupt deals with Petrobras.

However, without Judge Zavascki at the helm of this process, Brazil’s Supreme Court will have an extra challenge in convincing the public it can resist pressure from the powerful.