By Maria Cervantes
LIMA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra on Friday faced a fresh challenge to his leadership after leaked audio recordings of him discussing a fraud case with staffers prompted lawmakers to call for him to be impeached.
Members of Congress heard recordings of two private conversations between Vizcarra and government officials about his meetings with Richard Cisneros, a little-known singer.
Cisneros, also known as Richard Swing, was awarded government contracts for motivational talks worth 175,400 soles ($49,500) which are now being investigated by congress and the auditor general because of his alleged links to the presidency.
Lawmakers said the recordings showed Vizcarra attempting to downplay his meetings with Cisneros. On Friday, they sought congressional approval to begin impeachment proceedings against the president for "moral incapacity."
The latest fracas between Vizcarra and congress, a mosaic of parties from the left and right with no overall majority, risks plunging the world's second largest copper producer further into crisis. It is already reeling from one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks on the continent and faces the worst recession in three decades.
Vizcarra took office two years ago after former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s resignation over allegations of corruption. Last September, he faced down a previous attempt to impeach him for incapacity.
He claimed on Thursday night that the recordings had been doctored and accused congress of seeking to "destabilize democracy, to take control of the government to allow the reelection of congressmen and postponement of elections," due next year. He has already confirmed he will not run again.
Fifty-two votes from the 130-member congress are needed to approve the start of impeachment proceedings, and impeachment itself needs 87 votes to succeed.
According to Peru`s El Comercio newspaper, six out of congress´ nine parties, comprising 95 votes between them, have signed the impeachment motion.
Julio Ruiz, a Peru analyst for the Brazilian bank Itaú BBA said the new turmoil risked adding to recent "market unfriendly" measures, a reference to congress passing laws allowing Peruvians to withdraw early from their pensions funds, and a separate recent bid to push out the country's economy minister.
"If this continues to escalate, it could have an effect on recovery," he said. (Reporting by Maria Cervantes; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher, writing by Cassandra Garrison and Aislinn Laing; Editing by David Gregorio)