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Brazil's mega corruption scandal: what we know

© AFP/File | This combination of file pictures 10 of a list of almost 100 top politicians suspected of involvement in a massive embezzlement and bribery conspiracy that fleeced state oil company Petrobras and funneled dirty money into leading political parties

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - 

Brazil's Supreme Court has ordered corruption probes against around 100 politicians, including at least eight government ministers and a third of the Senate.

Here's what we know so far:

- What are they accused of? -

The probes expand an existing investigation named "Car Wash" and focusing on embezzlement and bribery at the highest levels of Brazilian politics.

For years, contractors like the Odebrecht construction conglomerate paid bribes to top politicians and parties to get business deals. At the center of the scheme, the politicians and Odebrecht conspired in a pay-to-play scheme at state oil company Petrobras.

Once investigators unravelled the scheme, 77 Odebrecht executives entered plea bargains in hopes of getting lighter sentences.

Their tell-all testimony formed the basis for the deluge of new probes announced by the Supreme Court late Tuesday.

- Who's getting probed? -

It's almost easier to ask who's not getting probed.

The list of around 100 politicians includes around a third of the Senate and nearly 40 members of the lower house of Congress. There are at least eight ministers in President Michel Temer's cabinet.

These include: chief of staff Eliseu Padhila and another key adviser with ministerial ranking, Wellington Moreira Franco, both of them close to Temer.

There's also Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, and the ministers for science, national integration, cities, and foreign trade.

From Congress, notable names include Senate speaker Eunicio Oliveira and lower house speaker Rodrigo Maia.

The list targets rival political parties fairly equally, with 20 figures from the leftist Workers' Party, which was in power during the period investigated by Car Wash.

Next comes Temer's center-right PMDB with 18 members probed and the centrist PSDB with 13. PMDB leader Romero Juca, a senator, is on the list, as is the president of the PSDB, Senator Aecio Neves.

- Ex-presidents in firing line -

There are no fewer than four ex-presidents named.

They are leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), then Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002) and Fernando Collor (1990-1992).

Lula is already facing five separate trials linked to Car Wash allegations and on May 3 he will go before the chief investigating judge, Sergio Moro.

Despite his mounting legal problems, and speculation over whether he will end up being convicted and jailed, polls show that Lula remains Brazil's most popular politician. He is the frontrunner in polls for the 2018 presidential elections.

The current president escapes for now. But Temer has previously been named in testimony alleging illegal transfers of campaign funds from Odebrecht to his center-right PMDB party.

- Prison time? Not necessarily -

The crackdown is dramatic, reflecting the incredible reach of Brazil's bribery problem. But it does not necessarily mean that dozens of big name politicians will end up behind bars.

Some prominent figures have already been imprisoned by Car Wash judges, including the former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha.

But most of those facing the new corruption allegations are sitting politicians. That means their cases are handled by the Supreme Court, not the lower courts.

The high court is so slow and overburdened that it can take years to bring cases to trial, let alone convictions. Supreme Court status is basically seen by many as a form of immunity.

Those without the privilege, including Lula and Rousseff, are not so lucky. Moro has proved he is able to move quickly from charges to sentencing.

© 2017 AFP