World News

Bid to Oust Peru’s President Falls Short in Congress

Posted December 22, 2017 2:27 a.m. EST

LIMA, Peru — President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski survived a bid by Congress on Thursday to remove him from office over allegations linking him to a graft scandal that has rattled Latin America, as lawmakers fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority after 12 hours of impassioned debate.

Kuczynski, who took office in July 2016, delivered an emotional plea to Congress earlier in the day, calling the claims against him “weak” and saying the impeachment proceedings were being used for political gain.

“Congress members, do not join this strategy. Do not let yourselves become confused,” Kuczynski, 79, said. “Those who accuse me will not let their condemnation be subjected to corroboration, to a debate, to due process.”

His detractors called the president “permanently morally unfit” to lead the country, arguing that he committed perjury in a congressional inquiry by stating that he had no professional ties to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. It was later revealed that a financial services company he owned had received $782,000 from Odebrecht, which is now at the center of the graft scandal.

Guido Lombardi, who was among the president’s defenders in Congress, called the proceedings “rushed” and said lawmakers had manufactured a political crisis. But his critics zeroed in on Kuczynski’s statements during the congressional inquiry. “The problem of lying is not only the lack of ethics of lying,” Victor Andrés Belaúnde said, “but the cover-up of improper acts that have enriched him.”

The president eventually acknowledged that his firm, Miami-based Westfield Capital, had received money from Odebrecht, but he said that the transaction did not violate laws and that it was not a bribe for preferential treatment. His company was being run by a business partner at the time, and Kuczynski said the firm had provided only consulting services to Odebrecht.

Kuczynski said that at the time he was testifying in the inquiry, he was unaware that Odebrecht had done business with his company between 2004 and 2007. Last year, Odebrecht admitted to paying roughly $800 million in payoffs in exchange for lucrative projects, setting off a series of investigations by prosecutors and lawmakers, principally in Latin America, to reveal who was on the receiving end of the payments.

Some in Peru’s Congress had argued that Kuczynski should be held accountable for receiving the funds and voted last week to begin impeachment proceedings. The vote was introduced by the left-wing party Frente Amplio, which described Kuczynski as having “demeaned the presidency.”

During his testimony Thursday, Kuczynski said he would be open to an investigation into his finances, but he urged members of Congress to vote against his removal, warning that the country would not benefit from a hasty decision.

“The people of a nation do not forget or forgive,” Kuczynski said.

His attorney, Alberto Borea, appeared alongside him and offered his own defense of the embattled leader during nearly two hours of testimony. “Not to impeach does not mean not to investigate,” Borea said. “The president puts himself at the disposal of the Public Ministry.”

A two-thirds majority — or 87 of 130 votes — was needed to remove Kuczynski. After his testimony, Kuczynski left the chambers and lawmakers debated his future over several hours. Lawmakers finally voted 78-19 in favor of the motion, with a number either abstaining or not present.

Kuczynski, who was given just days to formulate a defense after the impeachment proceedings were announced, maintained that the consulting services that Westfield Capital provided to Odebrecht did not give Odebrecht a competitive advantage in any dealings.

The president recently acknowledged being paid $380,000 in dividends by Westfield Capital between 2004 and 2007. He was prime minister of Peru from August 2005 to July 2006, and was economy and finance minister from February 2004 to August 2005.

At the time, his company was being managed by a business partner, Gerardo Sepúlveda, a Chilean. Kuczynski maintained that he did not personally approve any contracts with Odebrecht during that time and that the contracts involved no unlawful negotiations.

The opposition argued that he broke rules on conflict of interest during his time in office, both as prime minister and as economy and finance minister.

Kuczynski gave a televised statement Wednesday evening. With his two vice presidents standing at his side, Kuczynski said that neither would accept the presidency if he were removed.

“I confess that I have not been sufficiently organized, but I am not corrupt,” Kuczynski said in the televised address. “I apologize with clarity in my mind and heartbreak if I did not explain my professional conduct.”