Thursday, May 23, 2024

LATIN AMERICA | 23-12-2017 10:13

Peru president survives impeachment vote

Legislators gall eight votes short of impeaching Pedro Pablo Kuczynski over ties to the Brazilian construction giant.

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly survived an impeachment vote late Thursday night by lawmakers accusing him of graft in relation to disgraced Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

“The demand for vacancy on grounds of permanent moral incapacity has not been approved,” the speaker of the opposition- dominated chamber, Luis Galarreta, said after the motion

received 79 votes in favour, 19 against and 21 abstentions. The motion failed by eight votes, as at least 87 votes were required to approve an impeachment.

Applause erupted inside Congress and his supporters cheered and waved Peruvian flags outside as it became clear Kuczynski would remain as president.

“Peruvians. Tomorrow begins a new chapter in our history: reconciliation and reconstruction of our country. One single force, one single Peru,” a triumphant Kuczynski wrote on his Twitter account. The motion had been put to the lawmakers after a 14-hour session that started with a twohour appearance by Kuczynski to defend his position.

“I came today at your request to confront and expose the false accusation to the country,” the 79-year-old told the full session of Congress on Thursday.

He had called the move against him a “coup” and an “attack” on democracy. While regretting some of his actions, the former Wall Street banker stated: “I will defend my moral capacity.”

Kuczynski said “the Constitution and democracy are under attack” and his right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty was being trampled on. “I am an honest man. I have never taken a bribe,” he said.

Analysts had predicted that Kuczynski would be impeached, especially as 93 lawmakers had last week voted for the impeachment motion to be put to Congress.

The 79-year-old centre-right president was accused of lying to cover up US$5 million in payments received from Odebrecht that both he and the company insist were for legitimate consulting fees. The money was received between 2004 and 2013, a period in part of which Kuczynski was economy minister and head of cabinet for thenpresident Alejandro Toledo.


Odebrecht has admitted to paying millions of dollars in bribes to officials in several Latin American countries to secure lucrative and inflated public works contracts. It has said it paid US$20 million in kickbacks to Toledo, whom Peru wants extradited from the United States to face charges.

Another former Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, is in jail in Peru, also on suspicion of having illicitly received millions from Odebrecht in campaign funds.

The Brazilian company agreed over the past year to pay US$2.6 billion in fines to the Brazilian, Swiss and US governments for its corrupt practices. Kuczynski is one of the highest- profile politicians to be caught up in the scandal. Last week, Ecuador’s vice-president, Jorge Glas, was sentenced to six years in prison for taking Odebrecht kickbacks.

In his defiant defence before Congress early Thursday, Kuczynski regretted being “careless and sloppy” about his business dealings, but the former Wall Street banker maintained that “I did not lie. I am not corrupt.”


Political analyst Luis Benavente was one observer who had predicted that impeachment would happen, telling AFP before the vote that “President Kuczynski’s luck has run out.” Maria Luisa Puig, Latin America analyst with the Eurasia consulting firm, had said it was a “close call” as to whether Kuczynski would be toppled, noting “the case has provided the opposition with the necessary justification to oust him with public support.”

While Kuczynski saw off the impeachment threat on Thursday, public anger at perceived pervasive corruption in Peruvian politics was ignited. Demonstrations were held on Wednesday condemning graft.

One opposition party that led the impeachment drive, Popular Force, is also under a cloud formed by Odebrecht. Its leader, Keiko Fujimori – daughter of a former president who was imprisoned for corruption and human rights crimes – has yet to answer to prosecutors about suspicions of Odebrecht-related wrongdoing.

While Kuczynski managed to avoid impeachment, his troubles are not yet over. He is due for questioning at the chief prosecutor’s office next week, and a majority opposition rule in Congress is likely to make it difficult for him to govern.

Polls within Peru suggest a majority of Peruvians wanted the already deeply unpopular president out of office.

Odebrecht: a giant of construction, a giant of corruption

As Latin America’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht SA became a major player in Brazil’s development at home and abroad – until a huge corruption scandal known as “Car Wash.” As the firm’s former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, 49, leaves prison to finish his 10-year sentence under house arrest, here are key facts about the company and its former boss.


Often described as a construction company, Odebrecht SA is also a major player in engineering, agriculture and petrochemical production. The multinational behemoth was founded in 1944 in the northeastern state of Bahia, by Norberto Odebrecht, grandfather of Marcelo. According to the company’s figures for 2015, it had 128,000 employees, with gross revenues of around US$39 billion and activities in 25 countries. Exporting to more than 100 countries, Odebrecht SA is involved in a dizzying array of ventures, including even a submarine factory. Its high-profile construction jobs include Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracanã stadium, the Mariel port in Cuba and the Simón Bolívar airport in Venezuela. Far leaner times have arrived in the wake of the corruption scandal, with employees reduced to less than 80,000.


Brazilian officials running the “Car Wash” inquiry discovered that Odebrecht was especially active in bribing politicians to help secure inflated construction contracts at Petrobras and elsewhere. Odebrecht was also bribing politicians – sometimes right into their pockets, sometimes into their party campaign slush funds – to get favourable legislation passed. The bribery was so intense that Odebrecht SA had a dedicated department in charge.

Seventy-seven executives, including Marcelo Odebrecht, eventually struck a plea deal, spilling the beans on the politicians who took bribes. His sentence was reduced from the original 19 years and now he will get to live in his luxury São Paulo home again.


Probes have discovered more Odebrecht SA bribery schemes right across Latin America, including Mexico, Panama and Peru. In December 2016, the US Justice Department announced that Odebrecht and its petrochemical joint venture Braskem would pay a US$3.5 billion fine – a record in international corruption cases – after admitting to paying US$788 million in bribes across 12 countries. But even the main Brazilian judge tackling the scandal, Sergio Moro, has acknowledged the sensitive issues around his battle with a national icon. “It’s reasonable to be thinking about its survival, through mechanisms of compensation, in order to preserve jobs,” he wrote in his ruling ordering Marcelo Odebrecht’s arrest.

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