Latin America & Caribbean

Peru president fights impeachment over Odebrecht scandal

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (C) with vice-presidents Martin Vizcarra and Mercedes Araoz at the government palace in Lima, Peru, December 20, 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (C) is backed by vice-presidents Martin Vizcarra and Mercedes Araoz

Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has made a last-minute plea on the eve of an appearance before Congress that could remove him from office.

In a judicial appeal he argued he had been "convicted in advance".

Mr Kuczynski's opponents want to impeach him for allegedly receiving illegal payments from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

Peru's two vice-presidents have pledged their support for Mr Kuczynski, who denies the allegations against him.

Correspondents say his chances of survival appear slim. Ninety-three lawmakers have backed an impeachment vote where only 87 votes are needed for it to go ahead.

If removed, he would be the first sitting president to be forced out in the Odebrecht scandal which has spread through a number of countries in Latin America and beyond.

In a televised address, President Kuczynski accused Congress of trying to mount a coup.

"Along with my two vice-presidents I will maintain, with complete conviction, my commitment to the country and I will defend my moral capacity to continue to serve all Peruvians until the end of my term," he said.

"We are facing a coup disguised as supposedly legitimate legal interpretations."

Peru's first Vice-President, Martin Vizcarra, professed his loyalty to Mr Kuczynski after he returned home from Canada where he serves as ambassador.

The second Vice-President, Mercedes Araoz, tweeted her "loyalty and total support" to the president, adding: "We continue to work as a team to move forward with the social revolution which the people democratically voted for."

Mr Kuczynski, 79, initially denied receiving any money from Odebrecht. He now denies receiving any illegal payments but admits working on an advisory basis for the firm.

The payments by Odebrecht were made to Westfield Capital Ltd, a company owned by Mr Kuczynski. He said that while he owned the company, he was not its manager when it received the payments.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Anti-corruption protests have been held on the streets of the capital, Lima

He says he had no involvement in the company's management while he held ministerial roles in the government of former President, Alejandro Toledo (2001-06).

Mr Kuczynski has asked the Organization of American States (OAS), based in Washington, to send observers to monitor the moves towards impeachment.

Critics of the impeachment vote say it is a power grab by the right-wing opposition Popular Force party, which controls Peru's congress. The party's leader, Keiko Fujimori, lost the 2016 election to Mr Kuczynski by a tiny margin.

Popular Force says Mr Kuczynski has repeatedly lied about his links to Odebrecht.

Peruvian prosecutors are also investigating allegations of illegal donations from the company to Ms Fujimori's campaign.

Former President Toledo is currently fighting extradition to Peru over charges that he received bribes from Odebrecht. The country's last President, Ollanta Humala, is in pre-trial detention along with his wife, Nadine Heredia, facing charges of laundering money from the company.

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