LIMA, Peru — Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is facing an impeachment vote following revelations his private consulting business received money from the Brazilian construction company implicated in Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal. He will try to sway skeptical lawmakers to keep him in power Thursday before they vote.
Some of Latin America’s most prominent political leaders have been accused of receiving bribes from Odebrecht, convicted in courts and sentenced to jail. Kuczynski’s case has not gone before a judge and the payments are not believed to be linked to the corruption scheme. Nonetheless lawmakers contend they have grounds to remove him.
WHY ARE LAWMAKERS CONSIDERING OUSTING PERU’S PRESIDENT?
Opposition leaders in congress initiated impeachment proceedings against Kuczynski after an investigative committee revealed documents showing his private consulting firm received $782,000 in payments from Odebrecht more than a decade ago. Some of those payments overlap with Kuczynski’s years as a government minister.
While no one has proven that Kuczynski committed a crime, proponents for his removal say he should have disclosed the payments and at the very least he failed to recognize a conflict of interest.
Kuczynski’s approval rating has hovered below 20 percent and he has struggled to push through legislation since taking office in 2016. The opposition Popular Force party led by former first daughter Keiko Fujimori holds a majority in congress and is spearheading the impeachment vote. They will need 87 of 130 votes, which would immediately remove him from office.
WHAT IS THE PRESIDENT’S DEFENSE?
The former Wall Street Banker contends he left the reins of the consulting company, Westfield Capital, in the hands of business partner Gerardo Sepulveda while he served in government and had no knowledge of the Odebrecht payments. Kuczynski also asserts he reported and paid taxes on all Westfield Capital earnings.
Odebrecht has confirmed that it dealt exclusively with Sepulveda and stated that the transactions were not part of the larger corruption investigation currently underway in Peru.
The president likens the attempt to remove him as an “impeachment express” fueled by his opponents. In a letter to the Washington-based Organization of American States, he said his ouster threatens the nation’s democracy.
WHAT IS ODEBRECHT ACCUSED OF DOING IN LATIN AMERICA?
In a 2016 plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department, the construction company has admitted to paying nearly $800 million in bribes in a dozen countries — all but two of which are in Latin America. The bribes were paid to politicians, their campaigns and political parties to secure lucrative public works contracts and stretched into the highest echelons of government.
In Peru, Odebrecht has acknowledged paying $29 million to politicians and earning $143 million in profits as a result.
WHO HAS BEEN JAILED OR REMOVED FROM OFFICE?
If he is voted out, Kuczynski would become the first sitting president removed from office in Latin America as a consequence of the Odebrecht scandal.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is appealing a corruption conviction, while former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is awaiting trial. Another former Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo, has been accused of taking $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht and is currently in the U.S. seeking to avoid extradition. In Ecuador, Vice President Jorge Glas was recently sentenced to six years in prison for orchestrating an Odebrecht bribe scheme.
Meanwhile, dozens of other political leaders are under investigation as public prosecutors across Latin America continue to bring charges against lawmakers who participated in the scheme.
WHAT IMPACT MIGHT KUCZYNSKI’S OUSTER HAVE?
During his 16 months in office, Kuczynski has been outspoken in his criticism of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, lambasting that country’s socialist government as a dictatorship and inviting regional leaders to Peru to find a diplomatic solution to its political crisis. He was also the first Latin American president to meet with Donald Trump, telling the U.S. leader that he prefers “bridges to walls.”
Whether a successor might remain a vocal leader on foreign affairs is uncertain, but within Peru it is unlikely a new president would deviate significantly from Kuczynski’s policies. First Vice President Martin Vizcarra campaigned with Kuczynski and is next in line to become president. He would likely encounter many of the same obstacles Kuczynski has faced in governing.