LIMA, PERU - Peru’s congress has voted by a wide margin to reopen impeachment proceedings against President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, thrusting the Andean nation into renewed political turmoil as it prepares to host President Donald Trump at a regional summit less than a month away.
It’s the second time lawmakers have threatened to remove the former Wall Street investor over his ties to the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which is at the center of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal.
In December, Kuczynski narrowly avoided being voted out of office after a small opposition faction including the son of then-jailed former President Alberto Fujimori abstained. Days later, Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori from a 25-year jail sentence for human rights abuses committed during his decade-long rule.
But analysts say his chances of survival look slimmer this time. The deeply unpopular president has become increasingly isolated as one-time allies abandon him and polls show a majority of Peruvians want Kuczynski out.
“He’s going to have a lot more difficulty,” said Eduardo Dargent, a political science professor at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
The measure adopted Thursday inviting Kuczynski to appear before congress next week to defend his actions had the support of 87 lawmakers — the same number needed to eventually oust the president on grounds of “moral incapacity.” Fifteen lawmakers opposed the action and another 15 abstained.
At the heart of Kucyznski’s troubles is $782,000 in payments that Odebrecht made to his private consulting firm more than a decade earlier. For months, Kuczynski had denied having any political or business ties with Odebrecht even as three of his predecessors were investigated for taking bribes from the company.
Odebrecht has admitted to paying some $800 million in bribes to officials across Latin America, including $29 million to politicians in Peru, as part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2016.
The Odebrecht scandal has ensnared some of the region’s most prominent politicians and jolted Peru, where two former presidents stand accused of accepting money from the construction empire. Analysts say the latest rocky chapter in Kucyzynski’s presidency could negatively impact the nation’s economy.
The timing of the impeachment proceedings couldn’t be worse. In less than a month Peru is scheduled to host Trump and other leaders for the Summit of the Americas, whose main theme is how to combat corruption in the Western Hemisphere.
Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz said after Thursday’s vote that the attempt to oust Kuczynski “destroys Peru’s image as a country built on clear, democratic rules.”
Kuczynski has denied any wrongdoing and says he will not step down. If he is removed he would be replaced by Vice President Martin Vizcarra, a former governor who is currently serving as Peru's ambassador to Canada.
“As I've said from the beginning, I don’t have anything to hide,” Kuczynski wrote on Twitter Thursday. “And I am willing to testify with absolute transparency.”