RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki, who had a central role overseeing a massive corruption investigation roiling Latin America’s largest nation, has died in a plane crash, his son said Thursday. He was 68.
Francisco Prehn Zavascki wrote on his Facebook page that the plane crashed outside of Paraty, a popular coastal town about 155 miles (250 kilometers) west of Rio de Janeiro.
“Dear friends, we have just received confirmation that my father has died. Thank you for all the strength,” the son wrote.
A Supreme Court spokesman confirmed that Zavascki was on the plane’s passenger list but didn’t have more information.
Globo news cited firefighters saying the plane was carrying four passengers and that three had died. The names of the other passengers have not been released.
Images on Globo showed rescue workers pulling part of a small white airplane from the sea. It wasn’t immediately known why the plane had crashed.
Zavascki’s death raises questions about the future of a major investigation into a multi-billion dollar kickback scheme centered at state oil company Petrobras.
While the largest corruption probe in Brazil’s history has been led by a team of prosecutors and Judge Sérgio Moro in the southern city of Curitiba, Zavascki handled cases involving politicians.
By law, only the Supreme Court can decide to charge or jail federal politicians.
Most recently, Zavascki had been reviewing the dozens of plea bargains of former and current executives of constructor Odebrecht, one of the main players in the kickback scheme.
Zavascki was expected to decide which plea bargains to validate by February. Validation would make them public, potentially implicating scores of politicians in Brazil and several other countries where Odebrecht did business.
Zavascki’s replacement will be appointed by President Michel Temer, who has repeatedly been fingered in other plea bargains related to the probe. Temer denies wrongdoing.
In a statement, Attorney General Rodrigo Janot said Zavascki’s death was a huge loss.
“Justice Teori Zavascki’s contribution to Brazilian democracy is undeniable and unquestionable,” said Janot.