The Rush to Impeach Kuczynski

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is to address the nation Wednesday night, on the eve of his defense against impeachment in Congress.

Congress voted last Friday, in a heated five-hour debate, to begin the process to impeach President Kuczynski on the grounds of “permanent moral incapacity.” The first intent was to oust him that same day, but a call for due process won at the end of the day.

The President is accused of lying about a business relationship with the giant Brazilian firm Odebrecht while he was serving as a cabinet minister in the Toledo administration (2001-2006).

Constitutional lawyers and political analysts are calling the rushed impeachment an attempted coup d’etat.

“To say that because the president lied he must be ousted is a bad joke,” said Steven Levitsky, a political analyst who during the presidential campaign invited candidate Keiko Fujimori to speak at Harvard.

Journalist and lawyer Rosa Maria Palacios, in her daily vlog, reminded her audience that presidents Garcia, Humala and Toledo all lied and nobody called for their impeachment.  “The number of times our presidents have lied has never been sufficient motive for impeachment, even though we would have liked it.”

The accusation was made by Rosa Bartra, head of the congressional commission investigating the Odebrecht bribery scandal, known as Lava Jato, based on documents she requested from Odebrecht that showed that Kuczynski’s investment firm, Westfield Capital, had received payments from Odebrecht for financial advisory services.

In a press interview with five leading TV journalists, Kuczynski explained that while he was minister he handed over the management of Florida-based Westfield Capital to a trusted colleague, Gerardo Sepulveda, who also managed his own Chile-based firm, First Capital.  Although Kuczynski earned income —invoiced and taxed— from financial services that Sepulveda chose to provide to different firms, including Odebrecht, Kuczynski was not made aware of the contracts or agreements at the time.  Sepulveda, who will go before the Lava Jato commission in January, said that he negotiated the deal with Odebrecht and provided the services.

Odebrecht has clarified, in a letter to La Republica daily, that it never dealt with or signed any contract with Kuczynski.  The letter was in response to an op-ed by political analyst Mirko Lauer, who assumed that Odebrecht’s speed to provide Congresswoman Bartra with documents that it had been very slow to provide to the district attorney meant that it was aiding the opposition in the hopes of harvesting benefits later  — in February this year, President Kuzcynski announced an anti-corruption package of legislation that would include blocking companies, obviously including Odebrecht, from taking their assets out of the  country if they were involved in corruption.

But legal arguments and suppositions aside, Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular majority in Congress has been aiming to topple Kuczynski since he was sworn in.   They toppled two Education ministers and pushed one Finance minister to resign in these 18 months of Kuczynski’s administration — with the second Education minister, Marilu Martens, the President called for a vote of confidence from Congress.  It was denied.

This did, however, give the President the upper hand as far as his cabinet was concerned — if Congress denies confidence a second time, the President has the right to dissolve the Congress and call for new congressional elections.

Until recently, most analysts have seen Fuerza Popular’s consistent blocking of the administration as pique, because they lost the elections, because Keiko Fujimori has been unable to process the last-minute loss, because they believe the election was stolen from them.

But the situation now is sharply different.  The push to impeach the President, who has called this process a “vacancy express”, has taken on an unusual urgency and is seen as part of a broader attempt to take power of the government, not for political or ideological reasons but to ensure control in the scaling of investigations into corruption.

In a letter yesterday to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, President Kuczynski expressed his concern for democratic stability given the intent (by the Fuerza Popular-Apra majority in Congress) to remove three members of the Constitutional Court, as well as the attempt to remove the Attorney General, and the impeachment process initiated against the President himself.

In her vlog on La Republica, Rosa Maria Palacios says that 1) by removing the Constitutional Court justices, others will vote in favor of releasing former President Alberto Fujimori by annulling his 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity; 2) removing the Attorney General and electing someone more favorable, they will be able to slow down or even stop investigations into corruption and money laundering; and 3) by impeaching the President, they believe they might get Keiko Fujimori elected, or at least hold power for a few months via Congress to make changes in legislation and appointments.

Since the Odebrecht bribery scandal burst a year ago, and the judiciary has stepped up investigations also into local cases of money laundering, the net to indict and investigate political figures has spread.

Last week, the District Attorney’s office obtained a court order to raid two headquarters of the Fuerza Popular party, and to obtain documents filed with the national elections board, ONPE. The first statements indicate possible double accounting records, and at least three witnesses in Cajamarca, northern Peru, have testified that they were asked to sign donor’s receipts despite never contributing to the party.

Keiko Fujimori was scheduled to testify at the district attorney’s office today, in a money laundering investigation, but for the third time has asked that the meeting be rescheduled.  Meanwhile, spokesman and congressman Daniel Salaverry said that a court order for Fujimori’s preventive imprisonment was imminent, and this week said that the party had “received information” that documents were being planted to file false charges.

Fujimori’s concern is not unwarranted. Former President Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia are serving a preventive prison sentence, although no charges have yet been brought six months later, and the four most important captains of the Peruvian construction industry are also serving preventive prison pending investigations into their links to Odebrecht bribery.   Extradition papers are being filed on former President Alejandro Toledo, living in California, for some $3mn he received in bribes from Odebrecht.  The Brazilian firm’s CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, under house arrest, has confessed that his firm did provide campaign funds to Keiko Fujimori.

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