(Bloomberg) -- Chilean opposition legislators moved to impeach billionaire President Sebastian Pinera after revelations in the Pandora papers highlighted a potential conflict of interests in his family’s sale of a mining project.
A group of 17 lower house deputies presented on Wednesday an accusation for “compromising the Nation’s honor and infringing the constitution and the country’s laws.” The move comes just five weeks before presidential elections in which the ruling coalition’s candidate is trailing third in the polls.
The Pandora papers revealed a contract signed in the British Virgin Islands in 2010 regarding the sale of a stake in a $2.5 billion iron ore project called Dominga by Pinera’s family. Part of the payment was conditional on the government not declaring the area a nature reserve. Pinera was serving his first term as president at the time, with the ultimate word on any change in status for the zone.
“This is a baseless accusation,” government spokesperson Jaime Bellolio said. “It only seeks to weigh on the elections”. He said that the accusation is doomed to fail as an impeachment can only include events that happened during the current presidential period.
Pinera has said that his finances were placed in a blind trust at the start of his first term and that he wasn’t informed of the details of the sale. He has also said that a previous investigation into the deal in 2017 didn’t lead to any charges.
Still, Chile’s public prosecutor has said the Pandora papers reveal enough new evidence to open a criminal investigation into the sale.
Following today’s impeachment move, a special commission of five deputies will review the accusation and see if it has merit, after which it will go the lower house where it has to be approved by a majority of deputies. Following that, it proceeds to the Senate, where it requires two thirds majority to pass. Approval at the Senate isn’t guaranteed as pro-government parties control 15 seats, while the opposition has 21 and independents have 7.
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