Peru opposition alleges vote 'buying' to keep Kuczynski in power

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s biggest opposition party released audio and video recordings late on Tuesday in which supporters of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski appear to offer lawmakers public work projects in exchange for help defeating an impeachment motion.

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In a press conference two days before Congress votes on whether to force Kuczynski from office, the spokesman of rightwing party Popular Force said the snippets of surreptitious recordings of lawmakers and a government official shown to journalists were proof Kuczynski was trying to “buy” votes.

“We’re outraged,” Daniel Salaverry said, flanked by other members of his party as they renewed calls for Kuczynski to step down.

Kuczynski’s center-right government denied wrongdoing and immediately fired an official who is heard promising a lawmaker access to easy money through public work contracts if he supports Kuczynski in the impeachment vote on Thursday.

The attorney general’s office said the material merited an “exhaustive investigation.”

The scandal dealt a fresh blow to Kuczynski as he seeks to distance himself from a construction company that has acknowledged bribing officials across Latin America.

Minutes after the recordings were broadcast at least one lawmaker backed away from supporting Kuczynski.

“I can’t be part of this,” Jorge del Castillo, an influential lawmaker who previously criticized the impeachment bid, said on local broadcaster Canal N. “The president must give an explanation...I wouldn’t be surprised if he resigns.”

Kuczynski’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz slammed the recordings as part of a malicious campaign to unseat Kuczynski and stressed that no minister in Kuczynski’s cabinet had appeared in the recordings.

“The government does not buy lawmakers,” Araoz told journalists, denying any government contract had been awarded in exchange for political support.

In the recordings, three lawmakers who recently broke party ranks with Popular Force are heard trying to persuade their former colleagues in the party to help keep Kuczynski from being impeached on Thursday.

The three lawmakers, who helped defeat an impeachment motion in December, describe how supporting Kuczynski will open the door to public work projects for their regions. The lead lawmaker in the group, Kenji Fujimori, is heard telling a reluctant lawmaker not to worry about public prosecutors because the government will be on his side.

Fujimori denied any wrongdoing. “What was seen in the video is what any authority, any lawmakers, does to help get a project going,” Fujimori told journalists in broadcast comments.

Kuczynski narrowly survived impeachment in December with the help of Fujimori and nine other dissident Popular Force lawmakers. Three days later, Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori’s father, the once-jailed former autocrat Alberto Fujimori, in what many view as political payback.

Reporting By Marco Aquino and Mitra Taj; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore