Chile's Lower House Tuesday passed a motion to impeach President Sebastián Piñera for his involvement in the Dominga mining company affair, which was included in the Pandora Papers report.
It will now be up to the Senate to decide on the fate of the President, who has not been suspended from duty despite the voting outcome at the House of Deputies.
The Dominga transaction was carried out in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.
The lawmakers barely garnered 78 votes to pass the motion, while 67 other deputies voted against seeking Piñera's dismissal. There were also 3 abstentions.
Piñera's lawyer Jorge Gálvez had begged the “honourable deputies, to reject this unjust and inadmissible constitutional accusation, but to no avail.
In reaching this decision after a debate that lasted around 22 hours, the Lower House understood Piñera openly broke the Constitution and other laws, in addition to jeopardizing the honour of the nation.
Socialist Deputy Jaime Naranjo took 15 hours to read the accusation in full. He stressed that Piñera had failed the principle of probity and “seriously compromised the honour of the Nation.
Naranjo's summed up his speech by saying “I hope this house approves the constitutional accusation, but (...) Chile will judge those who are allowing this impunity in the country,” he emphasized.
For the initiative to move forward 77 votes were needed, while Piñera's dismissal by the Senate needs two-thirds of the Upper House.
Gálvez also insisted this decision was politically motivated due to the proximity of the Nov. 21 elections and urged lawmakers to reject the accusatory text, considering it inadmissible since it was a political-electoral manoeuvre.
If the Senate decides to sack Piñera, Interior Ministry Rodrigo Delgado would take over the Presidency for the remainder of Piñera's term.
The constitutional accusation was presented by a group of opposition parliamentarians after the Pandora Papers related to the sale of the Dominga mining project by the Piñera Morel family to their friend Carlos Délano became known.
The transaction was made in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands in 2010 after Piñera had taken office for his first term as President. In the contract revealed by the investigation, a clause had conditioned the third payment to the Domina area not being declared a sanctuary, something which is up to the Council of Ministers.
After a marathon session of 22 continuous hours since Monday morning, the opposition managed to keep Congress active until enough votes were garnered.
Socialist opposition deputy Jaime Naranjo, who acted as rapporteur for the House, took about 15 hours to outline the alleged presidential misdoings which in his view justified the impeachment.
After Naranjo's long speech, which ended around 1.30 am Tuesday, Piñera's lawyer Jorge Gálvez unsuccessfully tried to defend the conservative head of state, claiming an investigative committee was the most logical solution and not the straightforward impeachment.
The Senate will have to vote - most likely this Friday, November 12 – to decide if the head of State needs to be removed from office, for which 29 votes will be needed.
To add to a heated up atmosphere, Christian Democratic Deputy Jorge Sabag had symptoms of Covid after travelling from Chillán (400 kilometres south of Santiago) despite having a pending PCR test. His presence sparked controversy and the Valparaíso Health authorities arrived at the place after midnight.
Naranjo also highlighted the opposition's decision to allow him to read out the document on behalf of all the lawmakers who were in favour of impeaching the head of state.
“What we did today has only one explanation, the unity of the opposition and the generosity of the opposition to allow me to lead something that I had outlined that some did not understand, Naranjo explained.
Naranjo said he spoke, with fundamentals, seriously and responsibly because a Constitutional Indictment is a very serious thing and you were witnesses that I gave serious fundamentals as to why it had to be approved.
Naranjo stressed that the most important thing was that today this opposition has sent a message of hope, of faith to Chileans, that a much better country can be built, that we may have a president who is an example and not like the situation in which we see ourselves today: with a president who has not only acted outside of the administrative integrity that is required, but has also acted seriously in damaging the image of the nation.
We know that it is difficult to get votes in the Senate. It will be our job to convince the senators. We have faith and hope,” he added.