Odebrecht Scandal Claims Its Latest President
By Taylor Cain
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned on March 21, one day before Congress was set to vote on his impeachment. The Peruvian opposition party motioned to bring articles of impeachment against Kuczynski at the beginning of March due to his connections to Odebrecht. Congress still has to accept his resignation or proceed with impeachment proceedings, CBC reports.
Odebrecht is a Brazilian engineering and construction firm involved in political bribery across Latin America. A former executive of Odebrecht claims to have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kuczynski’s 2011 presidential campaign, according to Peru Reports. Kuczynski formerly served as a financial advisor to Odebrecht for an irrigation project. Odebrecht claims to have paid more than $30 million in bribes to Peruvian officials.
“Odebrecht is accused of doling out nearly $800 million in bribes between 2001 and 2016 – some filtered through the United States – to get contracts from governments to build roads, bridges, dams and highways,” reports CNN. Bribes were funneled to Mexican, Venezuelan, Colombian, Argentinian, and Peruvian politicians through shell bank accounts, which cannot be traced to a physical location or single country.
Kuczynski, 79, is a former Wall Street banker and World Bank economist who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2011 and won the presidency in March 2016. He served as Finance Minister and Prime Minister under former President Alejandro Toledo.
Toledo served as Peruvian president from 2001 to 2006. His home was raided by authorities in February for reportedly accepting a bribe from Odebrecht. “Toledo denied the charges via Twitter but later disappeared and is thought to be in the United States,” CNN reported. Peru’s president from 2011 to 2016, Ollanta Humala, and his wife are in prison while authorities continue investigating their connection to Odebrecht.
According to the Peruvian Constitution, the Vice President, Martin Vizcarra, will replace Kuczynski rather than holding a special election, according to Peru Reports. Vizcarra is a former Peruvian governor and served as the Peruvian Ambassador to Canada while serving as Peru’s First Vice President, the Washington Post reports. Kuczynski’s resignation forced Vizcarra to step down as ambassador, a position he has held since October 2017, CBC reports.
The opposition party has also called for Vizcarra’s resignation. Peru has a first and second vice president so special elections would only be held if Vizcarra and Second Vice President Mercedes Araoz both resigned. If Vizcarra resigns or refuses to take the oath of office, Araoz would become the next president of Peru.
In December, the Peruvian Congress tried to impeach Kuczynski, but the vote failed. The opposition party brought the vote back up at the beginning of March, reported Peru Reports. The vote arose “after an investigation revealed Odebrecht had made $782,000 in payments to Kuczynski’s private consulting firm at a time when he was serving as Peru’s economy minister,” Deutsche Welle reports. February’s vote failed because some opposition members of Congress abstained at the last minute. The opposition party control Congress and the leader lost to Kuczynski in the 2016 election.
A public opinion poll from March 9 found that 58 percent of Peruvians wanted Kuczynski impeached and 56 percent of Peruvians would prefer Vizcarra over Kuczynski, Reuters states.
Kuczynski announced his resignation via television and denied any wrongdoing, CNN reports. “Facing this difficult situation that unfairly makes me look guilty of acts in which I have not participated, I think it’s in the country’s best interest for me to resign the republic’s presidency,” he said.
The Odebrecht scandal comes at an unfortunate time for Peru who is hosting the annual Summit of the Americans on April 13 and 14, Reuters said. The Summit of the Americas brings together Western Hemisphere leaders, including United States President Donald Trump. Ironically, this year’s theme is on combatting corruption.
Ecuador sentenced Vice President Jorge Glas to six years in prison for accepting $13.5 million in bribes in December, CNN reports. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could be sent to prison for accepting Odebrecht bribes that went towards a family vacation home. Da Silva is not in jail, but his sentence currently stands at 12 years.