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LATIN AMERICA | 03-11-2020 10:45

Peru's Congress to retry president for impeachment

Peru's Congress on Monday voted to try again to impeach President Martín Vizcarra for alleged "moral incapacity" after he survived a first attempt weeks ago.

Peru's Congress on Monday voted to try again to impeach President Martín Vizcarra for alleged "moral incapacity" after he survived a first attempt weeks ago, setting a date of November 9 for him to defend himself. 

"The motion to vacate the presidency of the republic has been admitted," said the first vice president of Congress, Luis Valdez. 

The trial, for alleged acts of corruption in 2014 when Vizcarra was governor of the Moquegua region in southern Peru, was approved by 60 votes to 40 with 18 abstentions.

The allegations stem from claims by several businessmen that they paid bribes to Vizcarra in exchange for public works contracts in Moquegua.

The Peruvian leader in September survived an impeachment vote in Congress that was launched over allegations that he told aides to hide details from congressional investigators of the controversial hiring of a popular singer as a paid cultural advisor.

Public support for the president – who has waged an anti-corruption crusade since taking office in 2018 – has remained high throughout his battle in Congress, with eight out of 10 Peruvians wanting him to continue until the end of his term.

The new motion to impeach was lodged on October 20 by the Union for Peru (UPP) party.

"President Martín Vizcarra behaved inappropriately. We cannot allow him to continue lying to the country," said UPP Congresswoman Yessica Apaza.

UPP was among six of the nine parties in Congress to seek the previous impeachment, but opponents of the 57-year-old president failed to gather enough votes to remove him.

'Destabilising Peru'

Vizcarra blasted his opponents for their latest attack, saying efforts to remove him were "destabilising the country" which is fighting an acute economic slump due to the hard-hit South American country's coronavirus shutdown. 

"I am sure that Congress is not going to fall into the hands of a political group that is seeking chaos," Vizcarra told reporters.

"They are getting used to making an attempt to remove me every month, not the parliament as a whole, but a political group," he said.

Last month, he vehemently denied the allegations at the heart of the latest impeachment drive, namely that he used his position as governor to receive kickbacks from construction companies involved with Brazilian giant Odebrecht in 2014.

Vizcarra said he "absolutely and categorically" denied receiving payments after Lima daily El Comercio reported that a witness had told prosecutors that companies had paid around one million Peruvian soles, equivalent to around US$300,000, in bribes to the then-governor.

The president will now be hauled before Congress next Monday to face a second impeachment trial in two months. 

His opponents in the UPP and their allies will need a two-thirds majority, or 87 votes in the 130-seat Congress, to remove the president from office.

State prosecutors said last month that they intend to open a corruption investigation against the president once his term ends in July next year.

Peru has been politically unstable in recent years, with its four previous presidents implicated in Latin America's sprawling Odebrecht corruption scandal.

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