LIMA, Peru – Embattled President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski offered up his resignation Wednesday ahead of an impeachment vote, seeking to put an end to a debilitating political drama playing out just three weeks before the Andean nation is set to host U.S. President Donald Trump for a regional summit.
In a nationwide televised address, Kuczynski, with his cabinet standing behind him, said he didn’t want to become an obstacle to Peru’s development. But the former Wall Street investor lashed out at opponents led by the daughter of former strongman Alberto Fujimori for plotting his overthrow with damaging leaks of confidential documents that raised doubts about his integrity during his six-decade long career in private business.
“I don’t want my country, nor my family, to continue suffering through the uncertainty of recent times,” he said, adding that the campaign in favor of his removal had caused “enormous damage” to Peru’s democracy.
Congress must still accept his resignation before power can transfer to Vice President Martin Vizcarra, who is currently serving as Peru’s ambassador to Canada and wasn’t present for Kuczynski’s announcement. Some lawmakers were seeking to deny Kuczynski his one last act of government and demanded that he be prohibited from leaving the country.
Pressure has been building on Kuczynski to resign after the shock revelation Tuesday of secretly-shot videos in which several of the president’s allies were caught allegedly trying to buy the support of an opposition lawmaker to block the conservative leader’s impeachment.
The videos presented by the main opposition party purportedly show attempts by Kuczynski’s lawyer, a government official, and Fujimori’s son Kenji trying to convince the lawmaker to back the president in exchange for a hand in state contracts in his district.
Kuczynski said the videos had been heavily edited to smear him and recalled practices from “sad days of Peru’s history that we thought had been overcome.”
He was referring to Fujimori’s longtime spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who was known to secretly record himself paying cash bribes to media moguls, military officers and politicians in efforts to gain leverage over potential rivals and boost his almost unlimited power.
Kenji Fujimori led a group of rebellious lawmakers in December who defied his sister Keiko’s leadership of the Popular Force party to narrowly block Kuczynski’s removal. Days later, Kuczynski pardoned the feuding siblings’ father from a 25-year jail sentence for human rights abuses committed during his decade-long presidency.
A new impeachment vote had been scheduled to take place Thursday and Kuczynski was once again been scrambling for support — a task made harder by the release of the videos, which fueled calls from some of Kuczynski’s allies and members of his cabinet for the president to immediately resign.
Keiko Fujimori, who has publicly distanced herself from her father, accused Kuczynski of orchestrating the alleged vote-buying scheme. On Twitter Tuesday she regretted her younger brother’s appearance in one of the videos, which she said harkened back to “practices that have caused so much damage to Peru and our family.”
Kuczynski also referred to the dark past, saying it recalled “sad periods in Peru’s history that we thought had been overcome.
The videos released Tuesday portray the president’s allies trying to lure lawmaker Moises Mamani to their side with promises of lucrative contracts.
In one exchange, Freddy Aragon, the head of the government agency regulating firearms, tells Mamani that he stands to pocket 5 percent of future public works projects authorized by the executive branch in his district. In another, Kuczynski’s lawyer hands the waffling lawmaker the transportation minister’s cell phone.
“Those who’ve voted in favor of impeachment have all the doors closed to them,” Kenji Fujimori tells Mamani in one of the recordings.
Following the release of the videos, the government fired Aragon, dismissing his apparent misconduct as that of a low-ranking official.
“The government doesn’t buy people in Congress. That’s impossible,” said Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz on Tuesday, adding that Kuczynski’s removal would be a humiliating blow for Peru’s international reputation as it prepares to host Trump and regional leaders for the Summit of the Americas. “It’s true that everyone knocks on our door, they call and they even send us messages about their pet projects. But that’s a common practice because they are representing their districts.”
Kenji Fujimori said the tapes had been heavily edited to obscure the truth, and lashed out at his sister for “acting like a delinquent” in allegedly ordering the recording of his private conversations.
Amid all of the political intrigue, Peru’s chief prosecutor said he would open a criminal probe into the videos.
Kuczynski is accused of lying as president about $782,000 in payments his consulting firm received a decade earlier from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
Odebrecht is at the center of Latin America’s biggest graft scandal, having admitted to paying some $800 million in bribes to officials across Latin America, including $29 million to politicians in Peru.
The release of the videos came the same day as Kenji Fujimori announced he will start a new political party to compete in 2021 presidential elections.
Even the party’s name, Change 21, seemed destined to deepen the siblings’ split, harkening back to the elder Fujimori’s Change 90 campaign that in 1990 ushered the then-outsider into Peru’s top office.