Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Tuesday was impeached by the lower house of the Chilean Congress, setting up a trial in the nation’s Senate over whether to remove him due to allegations he favored the sale of a family property while in office.
The vote to accept the charges got the bare minimum of 78 votes needed in the 155-member Chamber of Deputies and followed a marathon 20-hour session.
Sixty-seven legislators voted against the “constitutional accusation,” including several members of the opposition.
Others abstained or were absent.
A Senate trial follows impeachment and Pinera is unlikely to be removed by the 43-member upper house, where the opposition has only 24 of the 29 votes needed to oust a president.
The Senate deliberations on his fate are to occur in the heat of an election campaign to replace him.
The first round of general elections is set for Nov. 21 and Pinera’s term ends on March 11.
Chile does not permit presidential re-election to consecutive terms.
The accusation stems from publication of the so-called Pandora Papers, which revealed offshore financial dealings of prominent figures around the world, including Pinera, one of Chile’s wealthiest people.
The leaked documents said that one of Pinera’s sons used offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands for sale of the Dominga mining project, which his family co-owned.
The final payment on the mine’s sale in 2011 hinged on the government declining to declare its location in north-central Chile a nature preserve.
The government, by that time headed by Pinera, did not do so, despite appeals from environmentalists.
However, subsequent governments also did not.
When investigators looked into the case a few years later, Pinera said that he had not been involved in managing the companies and had not even realized the connection with Dominga.
The president’s office last month said that Pinera’s first term as president, from 2010 to 2014, had not started when the sale was agreed to, that prosecutors and courts decided in 2017 that no crime had been committed and that Pinera had not been involved.
It said that all due taxes were paid in Chile.
Pinera’s holdings are now managed in a blind trust, the statement said.
However, the national prosecutors’ office has said that it is is once again investigating the case.
To get the majority needed for impeachment, Chilean Deputy Jaime Naranjo effectively stalled for 14 hours, reading a series of documents, until Chilean Deputy Giorgio Jackson was allowed to enter the chamber to vote following a mandatory quarantine period after testing positive for COVID-19.
Another deputy voted despite awaiting results of a test for the virus.
He slipped into the building through a side door to avoid health checks.
The minister of the presidency, Juan Jose Ossa, called the impeachment “a political show, a media show.”
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