By Maria M.Mur
Santiago, Oct 13 (EFE).- Opposition members of the Chilean Congress submitted a motion Wednesday to remove President Sebastian Piñera over a decade-old transaction cited in the Pandora Papers, a trove of nearly 12 million leaked files documenting efforts by members of the global elite to shield their wealth.
Piñera is just six months away from the conclusion of the second of the two terms permitted under Chile’s constitution, but the attempt to oust him sooner is certain to cast a shadow over the Nov. 21 election to choose the next president.
The text put forward by a spectrum of parties ranging from the Christian Democrats to the Communists, accuses the right-wing billionaire of lacking “probity” and of having “gravely compromised the honor of the nation.”
Chile’s CIPER, one of the 150 media partners of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which obtained the Pandora Papers, reported last week on a 2010 transaction involving Minera Dominga.
Documents show that the Piñera family sold their majority stake in Dominga to businessman Carlos Alberto Delano for $152 million, $138 million of which was conveyed via entities in the British Virgin Islands, a well-known tax haven.
The final tranche of the payment was made conditional on an assurance that the site of the proposed iron ore mine in northern Chile would not be designated as environmentally protected despite its proximity to a reserve that is home to 80 percent of Chile’s Humboldt penguins, according to the ICIJ data.
Piñera was in a position to provide that assurance, as the first of his two president terms began in March 2010, months before the sale took place.
“The opposition – complete, united, with conviction, with certainty, with responsibility and with all the evidence in hand – has presented this constitutional charge for the very serious deeds known to the entire country,” leftist legislator Tomas Hirsch said.
“We have to make decisions thinking of Chile and it is not supportable to have a president accused in this way of corruption offenses,” Christian Democrat Gabriel Ascencio said.
The move in Congress comes five days after prosecutors announced the opening of an investigation into Piñera’s conduct in the Minera Dominga matter.
Even if he avoids being removed before the end of his mandate, the 71-year-old Piñera could find himself barred from public office for the rest of his life.
Between them, the opposition parties hold enough seats to approve a censure motion in the lower house and send the case to the Senate for trial.
Removing the president would requires the vote of two-thirds of the senators.
Piñera, who is Chile’s fourth-wealthiest person, according to Forbes magazine, points to a 2017 probe of the Dominga deal that found no wrongdoing on his part.
But chief anti-corruption prosecutor Marta Herrera says that the information in the Pandora Papers constitutes new evidence.
The president said last week that he put his holdings in a blind trust before becoming president in 2010, “precisely to avoid any question of a conflict of interest.” EFE mmm/dr