(Bloomberg) -- Ecuador’s opposition-dominated National Assembly opened an impeachment trial against President Guillermo Lasso in its second attempt to oust him in less than a year.
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The process began Tuesday with testimony from two lawmakers accusing Lasso of embezzlement related to a contract of state oil shipping company. Lasso denies the charges, which he says are politically-motivated.
If more than two thirds of the 137 members in the single-chamber congress back the bid, Lasso would be replaced by Vice President Alfredo Borrero. Rather than let this happen, Lasso has threatened to dissolve congress, which would trigger snap elections while he would govern by decree in the interim.
Defending himself before the National Assembly, Lasso called the trial “a useless political conflict” which threatens Ecuador’s democracy.
The nation’s dollar bonds due 2030 extended losses, falling to 51.3 cents on the dollar. Lasso, a wealthy former banker who is one of Latin America’s few market-friendly presidents, is popular with investors.
Opposition lawmaker Viviana Veloz of the socialist Citizen Revolution party accused the president of operating a network of corruption inside state companies.
However, although Lasso initially faced several accusations, the Constitutional Court ruled in March that his accusers needed to provide “minimum plausibility” that embezzlement had taken place. This had the effect of whittling the case against him to allegations over a single contract.
Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro said the trial must observe the rule of law and due process.
“The principle must be to respect the constitutional mandates of presidents elected by popular vote,” he said via Twitter.
The impeachment debate is expected to extend to the end of the week, then the head of congress has five days to call the vote.
(Updates with Lasso’s comments to the National Assembly in fourth paragraph.)
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