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ARGENTINA | 26-09-2020 09:05

Lawmaker resigns post amid breast-kissing scandal

Frente de Todos lawmaker Juan Emilio Ameri dramatically suspended from Congress after kissing his partner’s breast during a remote videoconference session with fellow legislators. Hours later, he resigned his post.

Salta lawmaker Juan Emilio Ameri resigned his post in the early hours on Friday morning, following his dramatic suspension from Congress.

Ameri, a deputy with the ruling Frente de Todos coalition, was ousted from Congress after he was captured on video kissing his partner’s breast during a remote session with fellow legislators on Thursday night.

Speaking to the A24 news channel on Friday, Ameri confirmed his resignation and said he had made a “serious mistake,” though he stressed he had not “committed any crime.”

"I was wrong and I paid for it. I feel that I failed the people of Salta. I am a grassroots activist who was fulfilling the dream of every militant," said the now former lawmaker.

Ameri’s resignation arrived just eight hours after the incident. According to reports, he face strong pressure from his coalition colleagues, with the head of the Frente de Todos bloc, Máximo Kirchner leading the complaints.

Scandal

Congress sessions in Argentina have been held by Zoom videoconference software during the coronavirus pandemic and the controversial lawmaker from Salta sparked outrage as he delivered a scandalous show for his colleagues. 

In scenes broadcast live on the giant video screen installed in the Chamber of Deputies, a woman was seen approaching the legislator for Salta Province and sat on his lap. Ameri, who said the woman was his partner, is then seen touching her body, before pulling down her top and kissing her breast.

The 47-year-old Frente de Todos deputy attempted to explain away the controversy by claiming the sexual scenes were broadcast unwittingly, saying he did not think he was connected at the time. 

“I’m very ashamed, [I feel] very bad,” Ameri told Radio Con Vos in an interview. "Here, throughout the interior of the country, the [Internet] connection is very bad.”

He claimed that the session had reconnected automatically, without his knowledge.

“We were in session, [but] the Internet dropped [out]. My partner came out of the bathroom, I asked him how the prostheses were and I gave her a kiss, because 10 days ago she had a breast implant operation," said the father of three daughters.

‘Serious offence’

Minutes after the incident had played out on the big screen, the congressional session was immediately interrupted as Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa, also part of the ruling coalition, announced he needed to report “a serious offence” by a deputy. 

“There was a situation that has nothing to do with the normal decorum and operation of this house,” said Massa, calling for Ameri’s immediate suspension and the creation of a five-member commission to investigate his potential expulsion.

The proposals were endorsed and the lawmaker now faces a wait of up to five days to learn what happens next. The omens are not good.

“We are going to listen to the explanations of the deputy, but we cannot admit that this type of behaviour occurs in a body of representatives in a democracy," Massa said on Thursday.

Images of the event quickly went viral on social media, accompanied by condemnations from politicians across the spectrum. 

In an interview with the TN news channel after the session, Massa said that Ameri's actions had "discredited the entire political class." He said some lawmakers had already "exceeded the limit" during remote sessions, citing examples of some drinking whisky or others falling asleep. "If we do not act quickly, people lose respect for politics," he said.

Controversy

It's not the first time Ameri has faced controversy during his short legislative career. One local outlet, Realpolitik published a story in December 2019, days before he began his term in office, alleging that the deputy had sexually harassed a 17-year-old female political activist.

The story was based on allegations published by the young woman on her Facebook account, which included alleged images of a WhatsApp conversation between the two, in which Ameri attempted to seduce her.

The lawmaker denies any wrongdoing and has branded the story “fake news," alleging it was a result of "operations."

Stories also emerged on Friday about the initially unidentified recipient of Ameri’s affections. Local media eventually identified the woman as Celeste Burgos, a political advisor to the deputy who graduated from the National University of Salta just last year. 

Ameri said Friday that she had been in tears since the incident, as the media rushed to identify her. She deleted her social media accounts almost immediately, according to local reports.

Crónica reported that, in her position as an aide to Ameri, she was receiving a monthly salary of 140,000 pesos.

– TIMES

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