Chilean president avoids impeachment after Senate impeachment vote triggered by Pandora Papers

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera overcame a vote in the country’s Senate on impeachment charges triggered by the Pandora Papers.

Six days ago, the lower house of the Chilean congress impeached Piñera, holding a trial in the Senate over whether to dismiss him over allegations involving the sale of a mining company partly owned by members of its family.

On two separate charges, the opposition failed to secure the qualified majority of the 29 votes needed to remove the president.

The the mining company was sold nine months after Piñera’s first term to one of his close associates. Part of the payment was conditional on the government not taking action to pass new environmental regulations that would prevent the mining project, a survey conducted by ICIJ partners, the Chilean Center for Investigative Reporting (CIPER) and Labot, show.

The acquittal comes less than a week before the Chilean national elections. Piñera, whose second presidential term ends in March, is not on the ballot because the country’s constitution prohibits consecutive presidential elections. He is the first president to face a constitutional charge since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990. Analysts said the Pandora Papers reveal could hurt candidacy by Sebastián Sichel, the candidate of the ruling party.

“It is totally unacceptable that, on the basis of such a weak and opportunistic accusation, we are tainting a democratic tradition whereby the president elected by the Chilean people cedes power to another president who was elected by the Chilean people”, Jorge Gálvez, Piñera’s defense attorney, said in his plea to senators to dismiss the charges.

Gálvez lambasted the proceedings, arguing that there was no evidence to prove the president was aware of the controversial trade deal. He said the impeachment process was politically motivated given the upcoming elections.

Piñera is separately the subject of a criminal investigation by Chile’s national prosecutor, who launched an investigation five days after the first publication of the Pandora Papers. The investigation focuses on the 2010 agreement and could lead to bribes and tax charges.

Gael Yeomans, a member of the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies, insisted on Tuesday that while Piñera was not convicted, the details of the contract revealed by the Pandora Papers constitute a conflict of interest. “The private benefit of the Piñera Morel family was directly linked to public administration,” she said.

“There is no due date that does not come or debt that is not paid. If today the constitutional accusation is rejected, we will continue to insist on using all institutional mechanisms at the national and international levels so that the government of Mr. Sebastián Piñera responds to abuses against the republic and the country ”, declared Yeomans . .

A review for Latin American leaders

Piñera is one of three sitting Latin American presidents whose overseas transactions were exposed in the Pandora Papers, a global investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Besides Piñera, President Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador and President Luis Abinader from the Dominican Republic appear in the leak with 11 former heads of state and dozens of politicians from the region.

Owning or being related to an offshore entity is not necessarily illegal, but the secrecy provided may serve as a cover for illicit cash flows and enable money laundering, tax evasion and the financing of terrorism or terrorism. other crimes, according to experts.

As for world leaders and civil servants, their use of offshore entities needs to be examined and questioned, according to Susana Ruiz, head of tax policy at the civil society group Oxfam.

“When those who use tax havens are presidents or finance ministers, what they show is a willingness to pay less taxes, which is a moral offense to their country, or a complete lack of confidence in the institutions of their country since they seek protection in a better legal framework ”, declared Ruiz. “They are the ones who should lead by example. Instead, they choose to profit from it and protect themselves rather than creating change, even if it bothers powerful businessmen. “

More than in previous offshore scandals in Latin America, after the Pandora Papers, “it looks like there will be a high political cost to pay” for the leaders named in the leak, Ruiz said. “Maybe that’s because it’s the first time we’ve seen so many presidents involved… I hope that means more restriction on the use and abuse of offshore companies.”

Prominent Latin American politicians are under official scrutiny in several countries after their offshore transactions were exposed in the Pandora Papers.

THREE REPORTS ON THE LASSO: Ecuadorian lawmakers have published three investigation reports in President Guillermo Lasso’s links with offshore entities. The question is whether Lasso broke regulations promulgated in 2017 that prevent public officials from owning offshore companies. The Pandora Documents show that in late 2017, months after the new law, Lasso authorized the transfer of companies owned by two Panamanian private-interest foundations to newly established trusts in South Dakota.

Last week, a legislative committee concluded there were grounds for impeaching Lasso for breaking the offshore rule. A separate report by the Ecuadorian parliament’s tax committee contradicted these findings, concluding that Lasso is not a beneficiary or direct administrator of a company located in offshore havens.

Now parliament must decide whether to accept the legislative report and initiate impeachment proceedings or refer the case to the government accountability office and attorney general. The country’s attorney general recently confirmed that Lasso was already under a preliminary investigation for allegations of tax evasion.

CONGRESS OF GUEDES FACE: Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes is due to appear before a congressional committee on Tuesday, after request two adjournments. Guedes will have to answer questions about The revelations of the Brazilian partners of the ICIJ that he is a shareholder of a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

COLOMBIAN TAX DIRECTOR: In Colombia, the partners of the ICIJ El Espectador and CONNECTAS reported that the country’s tax chief, Lisandro Junco, had not complied with the obligation to declare a company he had incorporated in Delaware in 2016, discovered in the Pandora Papers. Junco amended his statement on October 22, a day after the omission was made public in a legislative session. In interviews before the investigation was released, Junco said he was under no obligation to report the company, but experts said his failure could result in disciplinary action.

Junco, who is one of 588 Colombians who appear in the Pandora Papers, has withdrawn from investigations related to the leak and the country’s president has had to appoint another public official to oversee possible future investigations.

THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF PERU: In Peru, the special prosecutor investigating the corruption case known as Operation Car Wash questioned former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on October 20 on the role of an offshore company created by Kuczynski while he was Minister of the Economy. The prosecutor said the company was used to transfer money in secret and that Kuczynski never included it in his declarations of assets. Kuczynski told prosecutors he did not remember certain details of the company’s incorporation, but denied trying to cover it up, Partner ICIJ reported.

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