The Chilean opposition presented this Wednesday in the Chamber of Deputies a constitutional accusation to remove President Sebastián Piñera after the alleged irregularities in the sale of a mining project revealed by the Pandora Papers. Parliamentarians of all opposition parties, from the Communists to the Christian Democrats, who rarely agree, blame the president for having failed the principle of “probity” and “seriously compromising the honor of the nation”. The deputies showed their confidence that the initiative could be discussed and voted on in the first week of November, and if approved, it will then go to the Senate.
The Chilean government came out to defend itself, blaming the opposition for presenting “an accusation without legal basis.” that only seeks to obtain political revenue in the face of the presidential elections next month. This constitutional accusation joins a criminal investigation opened days ago by the Prosecutor’s Office for the same operation: the millionaire sale in 2010 of Minera Dominga, until then owned by the Piñera family, to one of their close friends through a tax haven in the Virgin Islands.
The reasons for the accusation of Piñera
“The causes of this constitutional accusation are two: one, because the president has openly violated the Constitution in relation to the principle of probity, and secondly, by seriously compromise the honor of the nation“, announced the socialist deputy Jaime Naranjo, surrounded by representatives of all the opposition benches. For Tomás Hirsch, deputy of Acción Humanista, the constitutional accusation “marks a historic milestone” in Chile and was presented by “the complete opposition and with all the antecedents in hand.”
The constitutional accusation is a procedure contemplated in Chilean law that empowers the deputies to initiate a political trial against an authority and can lead to the dismissal or disqualification of the accused from holding public office. For the mechanism to prosper, it requires an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies, controlled by the opposition, and the subsequent support of two-thirds in the Senate., a figure that will not be reached only with the votes of the opposition.
Although the ruling party appears fragmented and immersed in the campaign With a view to the presidential elections on November 21, its main figures have closed ranks in defense of the president, with which the prosecution is unlikely to come to fruition. The cracks, however, are beginning to appear among several pro-government deputies who have declared themselves “in reflection.”
The defense of the loyal
The Chilean government came out to say this Wednesday that the constitutional accusation presented by the opposition has no legal basis. “We had not seen in the history of Chile a rush, a lack of seriousness when it comes to studying the antecedents for a constitutional accusation”, said the Minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Juan José Ossa.
“The important thing was to present it to be voted on before the elections” November, warned Ossa, whose ministry is dedicated to relations between the Executive and Parliament. In the same vein, the official spokesperson, Jaime Bellolio, he assured: “We are seeing the worst of politics, but that cannot justify doing anything to win a couple of votes and thus damage democracy, as some ultra-left parliamentarians claim “.
At the end of 2019, the president had already suffered an impeachment attempt for the violent repression of the massive demonstrations against inequality, but the initiative did not prosper. Piñera is the second Chilean president to face impeachment. The previous one was Carlos Ibáñez del Campo in 1956, but the case was dismissed.
Bribery and tax crimes
This political trial joins the investigation opened last week by the Chilean Prosecutor’s Office by bribery and tax crimes allegedly committed by Piñera in the sale in 2010, in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, of part of his shares in the megaproject Minera Dominga. According to an investigation by local media CIPER and LaBot, part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Minera Dominga was sold to businessman Carlos Alberto Délano, a friend and partner of the president, for 152 million dollars.
The payment for the operation had to be made in three installments and contained a controversial clause that made the last payment conditional on “not establishing an environmental protection area over the mining area of operations, as environmental groups claimed.” Environmental protection, which was not finally decreed, depended on Piñera, one of the country’s main fortunes and who had assumed his first term as president (2010-2014) just a few months before the sale of the project, which is currently pending appeals in the Supreme Court.
In his defense, Piñera assures that he was not aware of the sale of Minera Dominga because he put his assets under blind trusts in 2009. In addition, he argued that this issue is a “res judicata”, since the facts “were investigated in depth” by the Prosecutor’s Office and dismissed by the courts in 2017. However, The Prosecutor’s Office clarified on Friday that there is no “res judicata” because this sale was not “expressly” included in that case..
The mining project, approved by a regional court but pending appeals by the Supreme Court, includes the exploitation of two open pit mines in the Atacama desert, in the Coquimbo region, 500 kilometers north of Santiago. It also includes the construction of a mineral loading port near an archipelago where there is a national reserve that contains 80 percent of the Humboldt penguin species, in addition to other protected species.