ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Horacio Cartes resigned from the presidency of Paraguay on Monday — a long-expected step that paves the way for him to take a Senate seat.
The recently approved Vice President Alicia Pucheta will take over as leader. The Senate now must vote on whether to accept the resignation, but approval seems likely.
Cartes’ five-year term ends in August and Paraguay’s constitution says former presidents automatically become senators for life, with a voice but without a vote.
But Cartes, 61, won a full Senate seat during last month’s elections, a post that would help him extend his political influence into the future, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional. He has to resign before his term ends so that he can be sworn in as senator for the coming sessions.
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President-elect Mario Abdo Benitez, who is also a member of Paraguay’s ruling Colorado Party, takes office on August 15.
Former presidential candidate Efrain Alegre of the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party argued Monday that Cartes’ position as a voting senator is illegal since all “ex-presidents turn into senators for life under the constitution,” a largely symbolic post that doesn’t carry a right to a vote, salary or immunity from prosecution.
Before becoming president, Cartes added to a family fortune with two dozen companies that dominate industries from banking to tobacco to soft drinks to soccer, making it difficult to make a move as president without generating complaints of conflicts of interest.
Cartes often faced — and denied — accusations that his wealth was fed by money laundering, cigarette smuggling and drug trafficking. But Paraguayan voters overlooked the allegations, focusing on hopes that the Cartes would help boost the economy of one of South America’s most unequal nations.
Paraguayan authorizes recently issued an arrest warrant for a man Cartes has described as his “soul brother” as part of a sweeping investigation into corruption in Latin America.
A financial crimes prosecutor has accused the president’s friend, Dario Messer, of money laundering and criminal association. The dual Brazilian-Paraguayan citizen has been on the run since Brazilian authorities issued an arrest warrant there. Brazilian authorities allege Messer is the leader of a group of Brazilian illicit money dealers who delivered bribes as part of the “Car Wash” kickback scheme, the biggest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil.