Chile impeachment vote heads to Senate after lower house OK

This photo released by the Aton Chile shows Jaime Naranjo (centre), deputy of the Socialist Party, speaking while  surrounded by other opposition deputies after a session to vote on whether to approve the constitutional indictment against President Sebastian Pinera, at the National Congress in Valparaiso, Chile, on Nov 9, 2021. (RAUL ZAMORA / ATON CHILE / AFP)

SANTIAGO – An impeachment process against Chilean President Sebastián Piñera over allegations of irregularities in the sale of a mining firm, will advance to the Senate after being approved by a majority of deputies in the lower chamber early on Tuesday.

After almost 22 hours of debate, the vote to proceed passed with the minimum 78 votes needed, versus 67 against and three abstentions. In the Senate it would require a higher threshold of the vote at two-thirds of the 43 senators.

The impeachment proceedings against President Sebastian Pinera come after new details emerged about the deal in the Pandora Papers leak, a huge cache of documents that revealed offshore transactions involving global political and business figures

The impeachment proceedings against Pinera come after new details emerged about the deal in the Pandora Papers leak, a huge cache of documents that revealed offshore transactions involving global political and business figures.

Among them were documents that appear to outline a deal involving the 2010 sale of the Dominga mine, a sprawling copper and iron project in Chile. At the time, Pinera, a billionaire businessman, was in his first year of his first term in office.

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The leak stirred controversy in Chile because it suggested the deal, which involved a firm linked to Pinera's family, was contingent on a favorable regulatory environment. The sale had previously been examined and dismissed by courts in 2017.

Pinera, a center-right politician who will end his term as president early next year, has rejected the accusations and argued that all the details of the contract were in the file previously reviewed and that no irregularities were found.

The marathon debate in the lower chamber saw one deputy speak for around 15 hours in a bid to prolong the vote and allow another lawmaker to join the proceedings who had been serving a mandatory coronavirus quarantine period.

The controversy comes ahead of presidential and legislative elections on Nov 21, with right-wing candidate Jose Antonio Kast leading in pre-election opinion polls ahead of leftist Gabriel Boric. Pinera is not a candidate in those elections.

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