Peru's Congress debates impeachment of President Kuczynski

President dismisses attempts by Congress to remove him for his alleged links to Odebrecht scandal as 'unconstitutional'.

    Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is appearing in Congress to defend himself against allegations of covering up illegal payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

    Legislators on Thursday opened a key debate on whether to launch impeachment proceedings against Kuczynski. 

    "I am here at your request to squarely and firmly face the nation [regarding] a false and awful accusation that can only be understood within the context of an unconstitutional desire to remove me from power by the force of your votes," the president told Congress, calling attempts to impeach him "unconstitutional".

    After just 17 months in office, Kuczynski is facing possible removal after members of Peru's Congress passed a motion to start impeachment proceedings against him last week.

    In order to pass, the impeachment motion would need 87 votes in the 130-strong Congress.

    The so-called Car Wash corruption scandal in Brazil has affected many countries in the region, implicating politicians and businessmen in Argentina, Mexico and Ecuador.

    The accusations against Kuczynski centre on Westfield Capital Ltd, a company he owned, which received $782,000 from Odebrecht while Kuczynski was serving as Peru's finance minister, according to Peruvian national paper El Comercio.

    Kuczynski has denied any wrongdoing, saying his company was managed by associates at the time. He reiterated this before Congress on Thursday saying he was appearing with the conviction of his own innocence. 

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    Odebrecht became embroiled in a political scandal after admitting to paying more than $788m in bribes to win construction contracts across 12 countries.

    In a televised address on Wednesday, Kuczynski said he had never withheld information intentionally.

    "I recognise I made mistakes, I want to ask for your forgiveness with my mind clear and pain in my heart for not being careful with my information about my activities," he said.

    "I am deeply sorry but this has never been a tool for dishonesty and criminal activity."

    A 'coup in the making'

    Critics of the impeachment motion called  the move unjust and unconstitutional.

    Former Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano told Al Jazeera: "Congress has given [Kuczynski] an ultimatum to resign or be removed, this violates his constitutional right to defend himself, the presumption of innocence and due process. It is a coup in the making."

    The motion has been championed by Keiko Fujimori, the Popular Force party leader and daughter of the former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for corruption and human rights abuses.

    Keiko Fujimori lost the 2016 presidential elections by a narrow margin, fewer than 50,000 votes. Her party has already forced out five government ministers.

    Fujimori herself has been implicated in the Odebrecht scandal over alleged campaign contributions.

    On Tuesday, Marcelo Odebrecht, the former company president, was released to house arrest, having served two-and-a-half years in a Brazilian jail.

    Odebrecht was initially sentenced to 19 years but agreed to testify for a lighter sentence. He will serve seven-and-a-half years under house arrest.

    With reporting by Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez in Peru's capital, Lima

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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