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Chile impeachment vote heads to Senate after lower-house approval

By Reuters | November 10th 2021

Jaime Naranjo, opposition deputy of the socialist party, speaks during a discussion on a constitutional accusation against President Sebastian Pinera over possible irregularities in the sale of a mining company. [Reuters]

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 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 documented 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 the first year of his first term in office.

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

Pinera, a centre-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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