Peru President Says Opponents Seeking to Remove Him From Power

Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra accused his political opponents of plotting his removal from power by releasing tapes of him talking about a minor graft case where prosecutors are investigating government officials.

Speaking in a televised address, Vizcarra said the release is an attempt by “dark forces” to destabilize his government.

“If you want to impeach me, here I am. With my head held high and conscious clear,” he said late Thursday. “Nothing of what was presented today, illegally, constitutes grounds for impeachment. I’m not going to resign. I don’t run away.”

The tapes were published earlier on Thursday by Edgar Alarcon, an opposition lawmaker who’s investigating alleged irregularities in the government’s hiring of a little-known singer to give motivational talks at the Culture Ministry.

Prosecutors and lawmakers began probing the case earlier this year following allegations the singer, Richard Cisneros, may have used contacts in the presidential palace to obtain contracts totaling about $50,000, despite lacking experience.

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Some lawmakers are seeking support for a motion to start impeachment proceedings against Vizcarra, Rennan Espinoza, a lawmaker with the We Are Peru party, told RPP radio after the president’s speech.

The political turmoil threatens to deepen a crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the Peruvian economy to contract 30% in the second quarter, the deepest slump of any major economy. It also adds to a pattern of clashes between congress and the executive as Peru heads to general elections in April.

Leaked Recordings

Vizcarra’s predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned after an opposition lawmaker published videos that showed his allies apparently negotiating votes to stave off his impeachment. Since replacing him in 2018, Vizcarra has frequently clashed with the opposition-controlled congress after he pushed for reforms designed to stamp out corruption in the judicial and political systems.

The current political crisis escalated after recordings of what seem to be a conversation between the president and his staff about how to handle the case were aired. In one of the tapes, Vizcarra appears to say Cisneros made several visits to the presidential palace, instructing his staff to say only a couple of them happened.

Prosecutors investigating the case searched offices at the presidential palace in Lima on June 1.

Vizcarra has previously said he met Cisneros during the 2016 election campaign but never held meetings with him at the official residence. He turned down a request to testify to a congressional committee last week.

In another recording, Cisneros appears to brag about having close ties with Vizcarra, claiming credit for the president’s rise to power and for his decision to close congress last year.

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