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article imagePeru's president in last-ditch appearance to avert impeachment

By Francisco JARA (AFP)     Dec 21, 2017 in World

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Thursday made a last-ditch effort to stave off impeachment, appearing before lawmakers to deny allegations of corruption linked to disgraced Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

"I came today at your request to confront and expose the false accusation to the country," the 79-year-old told the full session of Congress.

Analysts, however, predicted that impeachment later Thursday on grounds of "moral incapacity" appeared inevitable.

The Congress is dominated by the opposition, and the number of lawmakers backing the process exceeds the vote threshold needed in the 130-seat single chamber.

The accusation against Kuczynski is that he lied to cover up $5 million in payments received from Odebrecht that both he and the company insist were for legitimate consulting fees.

The money was received between 2004 and 2013, a period in part of which Kuczynski was economy minister and head of cabinet for then-president Alejandro Toledo.

Odebrecht has admitted to paying millions of dollars in bribes to officials in several Latin American countries to secure lucrative and inflated public works contracts.

It has said it paid $20 million in kickbacks to Toledo, whom Peru wants extradited from the United States to face charges.

- Vast scandal -

Another former Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, is in jail in Peru, also on suspicion of having illicitly received millions from Odebrecht in campaign funds.

The Brazilian company agreed over the past year to pay $2.6 billion in fines to the Brazilian, Swiss and US governments for its corrupt practices.

If Kuczynski is impeached, his would be the biggest political scalp in the Odebrecht scandal.

Last week, Ecuador's vice president, Jorge Glas, was sentenced to six years in prison for taking Odebrecht kickbacks.

In possible preparation for a constitutional handing over of the reins, Peru's first vice president, Martin Vizcarra, on Wednesday flew back from Canada, where he is ambassador. But he has voiced his loyalty to Kuczynski.

The president has come out swinging.

The move against him amounted to a "coup," he said, in arguments back up by his lawyer alongside him.

While regretting being "careless and sloppy" about his business dealings, the former Wall Street banker stated: "I will defend my moral capacity."

Kuczynski said "the constitution and democracy are under attack" and his right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty was being trampled on.

"I am an honest man. I have never taken a bribe," he said.

After his two-hour intervention, the Congress began the debate over the impeachment process.

- 'Luck has run out' -

Political analyst Luis Benavente predicted the head of state would end up being impeached, telling AFP: "President Kuczynski's luck has run out."

Maria Luisa Puig, Latin America analyst with the Eurasia consulting firm, said it was a "close call" as to whether Kuczynski would be toppled, but the odds were against him.

"Even if the president has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and Odebrecht itself said the transactions were legal, the case has provided the opposition with the necessary justification to oust him with public support," she said in a briefing note.

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski  who may face impachment over graft allegations linked to B...
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who may face impachment over graft allegations linked to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht

A successful impeachment motion in Peru's Congress requires 87 lawmakers to back it -- and 93 last week voted for the process to go ahead.

One opposition party, the Popular Force, had demanded that Kuczynski resign to avoid being impeached.

However suspicions related to Odebrecht are also leveled at the head of the Popular Force, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of a former president who was imprisoned for corruption and human rights crimes.

Following a request from Kuczynski, the Organization for American States, a cooperative forum for nations across the Americas, has dispatched observers to monitor the impeachment process.

Kuczynski took office in July last year. If impeached and forced to step down, Vice President Vizcarra, 54, would take over for the rest of his term, to July 2021. If Vizcarra refused, a second vice president could step up.

If both resigned -- as Kuczynski has threatened -- Peru could face early elections.

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