Opposition lawmakers in Chile said Tuesday they will present a parliamentary charge that could lead to the removal of President Sebastian Piñera, whom the Pandora Papers investigation accused of having links to the sale of a mining company by his children's company.
"All the opposition benches have agreed to initiate a constitutional indictment against President Sebastián Piñera," Jaime Naranjo, a deputy from the Socialist Party, told the press in Congress, flanked by other parliamentarians.
A constitutional indictment aims to establish the responsibility of a senior public official. If successful, this one could lead to the removal of Piñera, six weeks before the first round of the presidential election.
Jaime Bellolio, a minister and spokesman for the Presidency, dismissed the charge as "an accusation based on a lie, solely based on short-term political and electoral reasons that shatter the idea of democracy."
In the lower house, which will vote on the admissibility of the accusation, the opposition can count on the necessary half of the 155 potential votes plus one to approve it.
It would then go to the Senate – where the political forces are more balanced – which will act as a jury, and where the vote of two-thirds of the 43 senators is required.
Piñera found himself at the centre of controversy after an investigation by the Chilean media outlets LaBot and CIPER, which are part of the Pandora Papers, a vast trove of reports on the hidden wealth of world leaders researched by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The investigation linked him to the 2010 sale of the mining company Dominga through a company owned by his children, to businessman Carlos Delano – a close friend of the president – for US$152 million.
It said a large part of the operation was carried out in the British Virgin Islands.
In addition, it said a controversial clause was included that made the last payment of the business conditional on "not establishing an area of environmental protection in the area of operations of the mining company, as demanded by environmental groups."
That decision falls within the remit of the Chilean president.
"The motives and grounds for this accusation will be based on having infringed the principle of probity [which obliges public officials to perform honestly and loyally] and also for seriously compromising the honor of the country," Naranjo said.
Piñera denied the accusations and any possible conflict of interest, noting that all his assets were placed under a blind trust from the time of his first presidency (2010-2014) and that the courts had cleared him of any crime after an investigation in 2017.
While the prosecutor's office said it was analyzing the reports, the Internal Revenue Service said it was "collecting all the new information available to determine if there is any type of breach or violation of current tax regulations."
The opposition will present the constitutional accusation next week and hopes it to be voted on in the lower chamber before November 21, when the first round of the presidential elections takes place.