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Peru's vice president steps down but survives congressional vote

Chehade is accused of trying to organize a raid at a disputed sugar plantation

After ignoring calls for his resignation for nearly three months - including that from his boss - Peru's embattled vice president, Omar Chehade, who is facing influence-peddling allegations, surprisingly stepped down from office but managed to keep his congressional seat after surviving an expulsion recommendation by one vote.

Chehade, who had taken a leave of absence after resisting calls from President Ollanta Humala to resign, faced a vote from the permanent committee in Congress to determine whether he should be expelled from the legislative body.

According to the allegations, Chehade tried to negotiate a police raid at a sugar plant on behalf of a wealthy family in order to break a labor dispute. Retired Police General Guillermo Arteta, a former Lima police chief, said that he was pressured to organize the raid against the workers and administrators at the Andahuasi sugar plant in favor of one of Peru's most influential families, the Wongs.

"I didn't want to continue to be a disruption for President Humala"

Chehade, one of two vice presidents, has maintained his innocence but Congress voted on December 5 to suspend him for 120 days.

However, the 40-year-old won the support from members of the ruling coalition parties, Gana Peru and Peru Posible, to stay in Congress. The final vote was 13 to 12 to allow him to remain in Congress.

"I am very satisfied because justice has been served," Chehade said afterwards. "I am happy this is over with and I can return to my position in April so I can continue fighting for social justice legislation and anti-government corruption measures." He will have to wait until that time when his 120-day suspension ends.

Víctor Andrés García Belaunde, the only member of Parliamentary Alliance on the commission who voted to expel Chehade, called it "a great defeat" and explained that it was geared "to prevent the investigation of government acts of corruption" in Humala's administration.

Under Peru's Constitution, Humala could not fire Chehade because a vice president - a largely ceremonial post - can only be removed through impeachment proceedings initiated by Congress.

But Humala, a former military officer whose popularity has waned since he took office last year, had gone as far as to say that "we don't have any relationship with him."

During conversations that allegedly took place at a Lima restaurant, Arteta, the then-police general, told Chehade that he could not organize the raid because the sugar plant was under court-ordered protection. Chehade told him that the Wong family was willing to pay to mobilize 5,000 officers, Arteta said.

The allegations were first made public in October by well-respected journalist Gustavo Gorriti.

Chehade told the permanent commission on Tuesday that he decided to resign because he didn't want to cause "any more disruptions" in Humala's government.

The 48-year-old Humala came to office with a pledge to fight public corruption. One of his first moves was to retire 30 of 45 of his top police generals in October. The president also made sweeping changes in his Cabinet last month that allowed his popularity to peak slightly in the polls.

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