Peru Congress to hold second vote on Kuczynski impeachment


Lima (AFP)

Peru's Congress will vote next week on whether to impeach President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski over alleged bribe-taking from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, it said Thursday.

The 89-year-old former Wall Street banker will be invited to make his case before the opposition-dominated Congress, assisted by a lawyer. The Congress agreed by 87 votes to 15 to hold an impeachment debate and vote on March 22.

A source in the legislature said the vote would be held "next Thursday."

"I have nothing to hide and I am willing to declare with total transparency before the corresponding instances," Kuczynski said in a tweet on Thursday.

The threat of Kuczynksi's dismissal has caused uncertainty in Peru the month before it hosts the Summit of the Americas, which brings together leaders from the Western Hemisphere, including US President Donald Trump.

In December, Kuczynski survived an impeachment motion in Congress over the same Odebrecht-related matter.

But prosecutors have not allowed the allegations to rest there. A week later he was questioned for four hours in his office by anti-corruption prosecutors over his links to Odebrecht.

The former banker was accused of lying about his ties to the company.

He later admitted he had taken money from Odebrecht for what he and the company said were legitimate consulting fees.

Kuczynski was Peru's economy minister for part of the period during which the money was received between 2004-2013.

- Votes stack up against president -

The opposition needed 51 votes to trigger the impeachment process, but got 87 votes -- the number required to impeach the president in next week's vote.

"They have obtained the exact number they need to dismiss him, a number that can go up or down, which suggests there's going to be an underground battle to the death between both sides," analyst Luis Benavente told AFP.

An opinion polls published by Ipsos on Sunday showed that a 58 percent majority of Peruvians want the president to be impeached.

His term is due to end in July 2021.

His removal by Congress would mean the elevation of First Vice President Martin Vizcarra, who also serves as ambassador to Canada.

Odebrecht has admitted spending millions to bribe government officials across Latin America to secure public works contracts.

Two leftist minority parties in Congress launched the new impeachment motion in response to Kuczynski's decision to pardon ex-president Alberto Fujimori in December -- just days after Fujimori's lawmaker son Kenji helped him survive the first impeachment vote.

That move sparked speculation that Kenji's motivation was a political quid pro quo for his father's release.

The elder Fujimori was serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses.

The pardon triggered street protests in Peru, with international rights groups slamming it as a blow in the struggle against impunity.

Kuczynski insisted he had pardoned the ailing Fujimori on humanitarian grounds.

Kuczynski has been in the eye of the storm since Odebrecht revealed in December that it had paid nearly $5 million for advice from companies linked to him when he was minister. Until then, the president had denied all ties with the construction company.

Odebrecht has also admitted that it made campaign contributions between 2006 and 2011 to the last four presidents, including Kuczynski and Keiko Fujimori, which they deny.