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Chile’s lower house votes to impeach president over mine sale

Chile’s lower house of Congress has voted to impeach conservative president Sebastián Piñera over allegations that he acted improperly in his family’s sale of a mine project.

Lawmakers voted 78-67, with three abstentions, to move forward with impeachment proceedings against Piñera following a marathon all-night session.

Socialist party lawmaker Jaime Naranjo spoke for more than 14 hours to detail the allegations, to allow time for another opposition lawmaker to complete a Covid-19 quarantine period and arrive to vote.

The conduct of Piñera, whose term ends next March, had “openly broken the constitution and the law” and “gravely compromised the honour of the nation”, Naranjo said.

Opposition lawmakers launched the impeachment bid last month after details of the 2010 mine sale were revealed in the so-called Pandora Papers, a release of leaked files on wealth held in offshore havens by world leaders and billionaires, earlier this year.

The leaked Pandora documents alleged the existence of a contract, signed in the British Virgin Islands, stipulating that the full sale price of $152m depended on the land for the Dominga mining project not being included in an environmentally sensitive area, according to news reports. The condition was subsequently met by the government headed by Piñera.

The president, a self-made billionaire, was serving his first term at the time. He has said he had no knowledge of the details of the transaction and never acted improperly. He has also said that the allegations were examined before by prosecutors, with no wrongdoing found.

Addressing lower house deputies during Monday night’s debate, Piñera’s lawyer Jorge Galvez said the impeachment bid was a “political electoral manoeuvre”.

The lower house will now agree a commission of three deputies who will present the formal impeachment case to the Senate, which will then vote on whether to remove the president from office, according to the congressional website. Piñera will be barred from leaving the country until the process concludes.

The impeachment vote comes less than two weeks before Chileans vote in general elections for a new Congress and in the first round of the next presidential race. Polls ahead of the November 21 vote suggest that the country is sharply divided between the hard left and extreme right.

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