South American president faces impeachment calls

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Ecuador’s opposition has launched a second request to have Guillermo Lasso charged over alleged embezzlement

A group of Ecuadorian opposition lawmakers has filed a formal impeachment request against President Guillermo Lasso, alleging extortion and embezzlement from public companies. A previous effort to impeach the conservative politician in June last year fell short of the required vote, after the leader cut off negotiations with indigenous protesters.  

The petition, which was presented on Thursday, was signed by 59 assembly members from the Union for Hope (UNES), Social Christian, and Democratic Left parties.  

The president is politically responsible for crimes of extortion and embezzlement,” legislator Viviana Veloz of the UNES party of former president Rafael Correa declared during the National Assembly session. “In this accusation it will be demonstrated how President Guillermo Lasso Mendoza participated in a structure of corruption to obtain benefits for himself and others.” 

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Should the impeachment process reach the final stage, 92 of the Assembly’s 137 lawmakers must approve it for it to pass, and the court system must also establish “judicial responsibility” to remove Lasso. Veloz said she was confident of legislative support due to “abundant” evidence to back the claims. 

 Lasso’s government has rejected the impeachment effort as a “destabilization” attempt by the Assembly. “This request completely lacks the political and legal elements which would support a process against the president,” the administration said. 

Earlier this week, the legislature declassified a raft of documents related to probes into corruption at public companies, seeking to build its case for impeaching Lasso, though the names of the president and his family reportedly did not appear in the documents.

The Assembly approved a report earlier this month that accused Lasso of doling out positions with state companies and favorable contracts in exchange for bribes. The report  suggested he could be involved in crimes against state security and the public administration. Lasso’s office dismissed the report as “an attack on reason,” arguing it lacked “legal and binding validity.

Opposition lawmakers have moved forward with their impeachment efforts despite having failed to uncover any connection between Lasso and an alleged bribery scheme involving the Albanian mafia, Ecuador’s public electric utility, and Lasso’s brother-in-law, during a two-month investigation earlier this year.  

Lasso, a former banker, scored a surprise victory in the 2021 presidential election against leftist rival Andrez Arauz. A former protégé of Correa, Arauz ran on a promise to stop IMF-mandated austerity programs and roll back the neoliberal reforms of Correa’s hand-picked successor Lenin Moreno. While Moreno had begun his presidency as a leftist following in his mentor’s footsteps, his subsequent hard turn right sent his popularity crashing into the single digits and he opted not to run for reelection.

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