Chilean president faces impeachment over Pandora Papers

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chilean opposition lawmakers on Wednesday started an impeachment process against President Sebastián Piñera for alleged irregularities in the sale of a family mining company that came to light as part of a global investigation dubbed the Pandora Papers.

The lower house chose five legislators to review the arguments. They will then make a recommendation to the full chamber on whether it should move forward with the impeachment or not. The committee will notify the president, who has denied any wrongdoing, and he will have 10 days to respond.

The process comes almost a week after Chile’s prosecutor’s office announced it was opening an investigation into Piñera for alleged tax violations and bribes in the selling of the Dominga mining project.

The leaked documents indicate the president used offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands for dealings involving the Dominga mining project, which his family co-owned in part with a friend.

The final payment on the mine’s sale in 2011 hinged on the government not declaring an area in north-central Chile a protected natural reserve, according to the report. The government — at that time headed by Piñera — did not do so, despite appeals from environmentalists, nor did subsequent governments.

When investigators looked into the case a few years later, Piñera said he had not been involved in managing the companies and had not even realized the connection with Dominga.

Last week, the president’s office said prosecutors and courts decided in 2017 that no crime had been committed and Piñera had not been involved. Piñera’s holdings are now managed in a blind trust, according to the statement.

The president’s spokesman, Jaime Bellolio, criticized the decision to start the impeachment process and said it was “an accusation based on facts that are not true.”

But opposition members disagreed. “It’s impossible not to think that the president is guilty,” lawmaker Gabriel Ascencio told local media.

In order to move forward, the impeachment needs to be recommended by the five-member committee and then approved for 78 of the 155 lower house’s lawmakers. If it passes, it has to be reviewed and approved for at least 29 of the 43 senators.